Thursday, February 3, 2011


With all the rioting going on in Egypt, the winter storm across the country, and the continuing debate on Obamacare, you may have missed this news item:

Pete’s Wicked Ale is no more.

One of the first craft beers on the market back in the 1980s, Pete’s will be gone from the shelves after March 1. Gambrinus Company, which bought the brand from its founder, Pete Slosberg, back in 1998, is discontinuing Pete’s Wicked Ale because of -- what else? -- lagging sales.

There is a lesson here, and it’s not that craft beers are a fad soon to go the way of hula hoops and banked in layups in NBA games. Not at all. If anything, craft beers are becoming more popular.

There is a reason craft breweries are generally small operations, though.

Craft brewers are interested in producing beers with distinctive flavors running the gamut from extra hoppy to malty to flavors featuring tinges of blueberry, cherry, or other fruits. Their interest is in product, not mere mega sales numbers.

In fact, by definition, they are limited by the Brewers Association to producing no more than 6 million barrels of beer a year, a recent increase from 2 million barrels mostly to accommodate the growing Boston Beer Company and its Samuel Adams lineup.

On the other hand, the culture of the people who run the large breweries, like Anheuser-Busch, Miller’s, and Coors, is to sell more beer. Who cares what it tastes like as long as it sells.

To do that, they have to have a product that has a wide appeal, plus a clever advertising campaign to make people believe things like adding hops three times in the brewing process (not necessarily three times more hops) or vortex bottles makes the beer taste better. Distinctive or extreme flavors must be dumbed down to the level of Bud Light, which is little more than colored water.

That’s what happened to Pete’s. They modified the formula. If you go to a website called and read about the end of Pete’s, you’ll see a lot of comments from people who say the last time they tried Pete’s it wasn’t up to what they remembered.

Turns out, it wasn’t their taste buds that had changed so much as it was Pete’s Ale itself.

Myself, I got into craft  beers sometime back but never really got into Pete’s so much. I liked other alternatives, like Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada, and now many others more than Pete’s. So even though it’s kind of sad to see it go, I honestly won’t really miss it.

When I go out of town, I like to have whatever the local brewery is producing, which has led me to Sweetwater in Atlanta, Highland Brewing in Asheville, N.C., and some brand that escapes me in Nashville, Tenn., brewed right down the street from the hotel where I was staying.

Two trips to Oregon last summer was like going to beer heaven with the various offerings from Deschutes and Rogue.

Craft beers generally cost a bit more than your standard fare, but not always. Full Sail, an Oregon brewery in Hood River, is not as much a six-pack as most other brands I have run across. (Yes, even in Miami, you can find beers from Oregon, but you have to hunt for them.)

The good thing is, generally speaking, you don’t drink as much of a craft beer at a sitting because their flavor satisfies you. The law of diminishing beers, um, I mean diminishing returns, also applies here. By the time you’re on about your third beer, they no longer seem to have a distinctive taste, which is what you’re drinking them for in the first place. Might as well have a Bud (but not a Bud Light) by that point.

The other reason you may not want to drink many craft beers at a sitting has to do with alcohol content. Some, not all, but some, have higher ABV percentages than your standard macro-beer fare. Two or three of those and you’re in normal four- or five-beer territory pretty quickly.

And you can’t tell a beer’s ABV by color. Not all dark beers are heavy in alcohol. Not all golden beers are light in alcohol. Guinness Draught, about as dark as you can get, is 4.0 percent. Bud (not Bud Light) is 5.0 percent, Miller High Life (probably the best of the macros) is 5.5.

Pete’s Wicked Ale came in at 5.7 percent.

But soon, not any more.

1 comment:

  1. Nearly every craft beer bought up and mass marketed by a mainstream brewery has disappeared. Too bad about Pete's.