With Anheuser-Busch's grudging acceptance of InBev's all-cash $70-per-share bid for the largest American-owned brewery, many patriotic beer drinkers have vowed not to let any of their hard-earned money go to Belgium, and are looking to switch to a beer made by an American-owned brewery. But with Miller owned by South African Breweries and Coors owned by Molson, who moves to the top of the pile of American-owned and -operated breweries? That's harder to say that you might think.
Pabst Brewing Company has wasted no time claiming the title. The company issued a statement on its website stating that with the InBev deal, Pabst "will be the last of the famous iconic U.S. brewers to be fully independent and American-owned." It has also sent out an e-mail survey asking recipients whether this knowledge would affect their purchasing decisions. Clearly the marketing whizzes at Pabst are looking to capitalize on the disillusionment of loyal Bud drinkers. And why shouldn't they? A-B did the same thing when Miller and Coors were sold.
But wait. What is that asterisk? As it turns out, Pabst actually sold its last brewery in 2001 and is now nothing more than a brand name owned by a charitable trust. Almost all of its beers are brewed under contract in SABMiller's South African-owned breweries. Besides Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pabst Brewing Company has nearly two dozen other brands in its portfolio, many of them regional and national beers that have fallen by the wayside in the wake of industry consolidation over the last 30 years, including G. Heilman (Blatz, Colt 45, National Bohemian, Old Style), Schlitz (Schlitz, Old Milwaukee), Stroh's, Schaefer, Lone Star and Ranier.
If that asterisk bothers you, and you think that beer brewed by American workers in plants located in the United States that are owned by a South African brewing conglomerate is not American enough, you'll have to keep going down the list. The next largest U.S. brewer is the Boston Beer Company, maker of Sam Adams beers. Now there's an American company you can get behind. What could be more American than Sam Adams, brewer and patriot? Well, the company is American-owned, with founder Jim Koch holding a controlling interest in the publicly traded company. A portion of Sam Adams is also contract brewed at Miller, however. At one time, almost all of Sam Adams was contract brewed, but the Boston Beer Company purchased the old Hudepohl-Schoenling brewery in Cincinnati in 1997, and recently purchased the old Schaefer/Stroh's plant near Allentown, Pennsylvania, which, when fully operational, could give Boston Beer Company the capacity to brew all its beers in-house.
Now, if you don't count the portion of Sam Adams brewed in Miller plants, does Boston Beer still produce the most beer in its own plants of any brewery? No, that honor would now go to D.G. Yuengling & Sons of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, America's Oldest Brewery® (1829), makers of Yuengling Traditional Lager, Porter and Black & Tan. Although it's not yet available in Georgia (rumors abound), Yuengling has a cultish following similar to PBR and is sold in 11 states in the Mid Atlantic and Southeast. The brewery produced 1.6 million barrels of beer last year, just a bit shy of Boston Beer Company's 1.8 million barrels. The company is privately held and owns two breweries in Pennsylvania and one in Tampa, Fla.
If all this is just too confusing, might I suggest a simpler solution? Buy craft beer, preferably local. Sweetwater, Terrapin and Red Brick are all brewed in Georgia, are American-owned and produce at least some products geared toward the mass market. Who knows? Maybe some day one of those companies will be contending with the likes of Sam Adams and Yuengling for the top spot among American-owned breweries. Here's a good way to get started:
"Georgia on My Mind" Beer Dinner at Taco Mac
On Tues., July 29, Taco Mac Lindbergh City Center will host a beer dinner in its private dining area featuring selections from Georgia's three craft breweries: Atlanta Brewing Company, Sweetwater Brewing Company and Terrapin Beer Company. Chef Matt Deckard will pair such dishes as smoked paprika salmon with wild mushroom fricassee with Terrapin's limited edition smoked rye lager, Roggenrauchbier, and beef cheeks with crispy Vidalia onions and sweet potato with Atlanta Brewing's Red Brick Porter, its relabeled winter seasonal chocolate oatmeal porter, now available year-round. A dessert of pecan tart with candied bourbon Georgia peaches will be served with Sweetwater's rare whiskey-barrel aged Jackass Barley Wine, winner of the People's Choice award at this year's Atlanta Cask Ale Tasting. The cost for the six-course service is $65, gratuity included. For a full menu and to reserve a spot, go to www.tacomac.com and click on "Beer Dinners."