Can American Beers Make It in Europe?


There are few things more frustrating than being an American beer lover in Germany. Next time you’re there, just try to convince a Beck’s fan that there are in fact hundreds of American craft beers that will knock his Bremen brew on its hintern. Even an open-minded German beer drinker (and they’re not easy to come by) will demand proof. And you’ll have … what? Even in Berlin, you’ll be lucky to find a dusty, two-year-old bottle of Sam Adams sitting forlornly in a department store food section. Beck’s it is, mein freund!

But Greg Koch, co-owner of Stone Brewing, wants to change that. Based in Escondido, California, Stone just closed its request for proposal (PDF) to construct a brewing facility in Europe. If it works out, in a few years Stone will be the first American craft brewery to make its product outside the United States.

“We think there’s the opportunity there to bring something different to the table,” Koch told me in a recent interview. Different is right: Stone’s biggest sellers—its pale ale, porter, and Arrogant Bastard, a strong ale—are far from the typical biergarten fare. Though the details are still confidential, Koch said he had received several serious responses, both for new construction and retrofitting an existing plant.

Stone currently exports a limited amount of its beer, but doing so doesn’t make much sense. It creates a huge carbon footprint, exposes the beer to harmful heat and light, and, when all the shipping and taxes are added in, the beer is outside most European consumers’ price ranges—assuming they’re willing to try an American beer in the first place. “It changes it from something you could enjoy regularly to something you only drink on special occasions, and that’s not the way to win skeptical potential customers,” Koch says.

Koch makes a convincing case, but he openly admits that Stone has done almost no research on markets and consumer demographics; that, he says, is for the big commodity brewers. “Most Americans don’t even drink our beers,” he says. “We don’t make beer for everyone.”

It’s a fair point, though he’s being a bit coy. American-style craft beer is slowly gaining a foothold on the Continent. In only a few years Denmark’s Mikkeller has become one of the craft world’s hottest brewers, and Norway’s Nøgne Ø is close behind. After decades of settling for the likes of Peroni, Italy is experiencing a veritable beer renaissance. All these brewers are taking their cues from the Americans, cooking up IPAs, porters, Flemish sours, and saisons.

So far, outside their local markets, these beers are doing better in the United States and the U.K. than anywhere in the rest of Europe. But that’s likely to change as their distribution networks expand and consumers in Germany and elsewhere get to experience what real IPA tastes like. The way Koch sees it, why should the European craft brewers have all the fun?

LeBron James South Beach Bound

LeBron James has chosen the Miami Heat. James announced his decision to play for Miami during a televised special from the Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Conn., on Thursday night.

The addition of James is the third major move the Heat have made this summer. In addition to bringing back six-time All-Star Dwyane Wade, Miami has also agreed to contract terms with five-time All-Star Chris Bosh. Now the three kingpins of this year’s free-agent market will combine forces to try to win a championship together.

James, the two-time reigning MVP, has yet to win his first NBA title, and it’s clear the desire to win one played heavily into choosing Miami over staying with Cleveland.

After months of speculation and a week of deliberating after meeting with six prospective teams, James revealed that he didn’t make up his mind until Thursday morning.

“I decided this morning,” he said. “I went day to day, I woke up one morning and it’s one team, I woke up another and it’s that team. … This morning, I woke up, had a great conversation with my mom, and once I had that conversation with her I was set.”

Multiple reports Thursday morning leaked James’ plan to join Wade and Bosh in Miami. The stars even reportedly talked about the possibility of it happening during a “summit” in late June.

On Wednesday, Bosh said that he chose to sign with Miami even though he didn’t know if LeBron was on board yet. “I wasn’t sure if LeBron was coming back [to Cleveland] and I just wanted to leave that decision up to him,” Bosh said. “I wanted to choose the best situation for me and my family and Miami was the best decision for me.”

In the end, it was the chance to join forces with Wade and Bosh that sealed the deal.

“I think the major factor and the major reason was the best opportunity to win, and to win now, and to win into the future, also,” James said. “Winning is a huge thing for me. … I’ve done some great things in my seven years and I want to continue doing them.”

James also praised his new teammate for allowing this team to come together. “At this point, D-Wade, he’s the unselfish guy here,” he said. “To be able to have Chris Bosh and LeBron James, to welcome us to his team, it’s not about the individual here.”

In anticipation of LeBron’s big move, Miami Heat season tickets sold out overnight. The Miami Herald reported that “no tickets were available for the 2010-2011 season on the team’s website as of 11:15 a.m. Thursday.”

But it had truly began on Oct. 29, 2003, when James’ NBA debut at Arco Arena in Sacramento showed just how bright his spotlight would be and how he would never turn away. One of the league’s smallest market was on the biggest stage, with James trailed by media members at every turn before facing the Kings and lost amid a mass of reporters at midcourt as he stretched before tip-off.

He welcomed the attention then, even as a 19-year-old who looked nothing like the specimen of a man he would become. That trend continued throughout his career. Before home games at Quicken Loans Arena, the self-anointed King would hold court with the media outside the Cavaliers locker room as if he was the coach.

But his phenomenal play quieted those fans and media who complained that he was overhyped. That assertion was certainly true, but the annual All-Star berths (six in all) and eventual MVP awards (two) came close to matching the endless mania that surrounded him. Those voices are back now, though, having grown tired of the James-driven spectacle that will end with the most important questions at hand unanswered.

Is he great?

Is he a champion?

James, whose only Finals appearance came in 2007 when his Cavs were swept by San Antonio, missed his chance at the right kind of free agency run-up during last season’s playoffs. No moment was worse than his unforgettably-listless performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Boston, when he shot 3 of 14 from the field and scored 15 points in the 120-88 blowout, the Celtics seizing a 3-2 series lead before finishing the Cavs in Game 6.
His plotting of this drama had already been underway, with James’ people scheming and planning to capture the masses and make a fifth of the league’s teams fawn for his services. They originally planned a free agency tour before having teams come to him in Ohio, and even discussed commemorative Nike shoes for each city stop to chronicle the process. New York, New Jersey, Miami, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles.

It all ended in Greenwich, Conn. on Thursday night, but it is far from over.

The King still needs a crown.

FanHouse’s Sam Amick contributed to this report.

Sugary-drink ban starts to affect S.F. sites

Coca-Cola is out, and soy milk is now part of San Francisco’s official city policy.

Under an executive order from Mayor Gavin Newsom, Coke, Pepsi and Fanta Orange are no longer allowed in vending machines on city property, although their diet counterparts are – up to a point.

Newsom’s directive, issued in April but whose practical impacts are starting to be felt now, bars calorically sweetened beverages from vending machines on city property.

That includes non-diet sodas, sports drinks and artificially sweetened water. Juice must be 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice with no added sweeteners. Diet sodas can be no more than 25 percent of the items offered, the directive says.

There should be “ample choices” of water, “soy milk, rice milk and other similar dairy or non dairy milk,” says the directive, which also covers fat and sugar content in vending machine snacks.

It’s all part of Newsom’s effort to combat obesity and improve San Franciscans’ health, similar to a national effort being championed by first lady Michelle Obama.

The mayor’s administration points to studies linking soda to obesity, including a UCLA one released last year that found adults who drink at least one soft drink a day are 27 percent more likely to be obese than those who don’t, and that soda consumption is fueling the state’s $41 billion annual obesity problem. The study also found that 41 percent of children and 62 percent of teens drink at least one soda daily.

“There’s a direct link between what people eat and drink and the obesity and health care crises in this country,” Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker said. “It’s entirely appropriate and not at all intrusive for city government to take steps to discourage the sale of sugary sodas on city property.”

Restricting soda

San Francisco certainly isn’t the first municipality to set nutritional standards for vending machines on public property. The state and at least four counties have adopted or have recommendations for similar policies. Santa Clara County’s policy, adopted in 2008, is not as restrictive as San Francisco’s, allowing up to half of vending machine content to be standard soda. It’s unclear how strict the other policies are.

Bob Achermann, executive director of the California/Nevada Soft Drink Association industry group, said he hasn’t received complaints about San Francisco’s rule, but said “it certainly sounds a bit proscriptive.”

“This is all about choice. There is probably nothing more personal than what you drink and eat,” Achermann said. “Singling out beverages in this whole equation of how to fight obesity is not going to be the answer.”

A multifaceted approach

Newsom floated the idea last year of imposing a fee on retailers that sell soda but has yet to follow through with legislation. His administration says it’s trying a multifaceted approach to tackling obesity, including the Shape Up San Francisco exercise program and periodic Sunday street closures to encourage outside activity.

“This is not about the soda police or a crackdown on soda,” Winnicker said. “People absolutely remain free to choose to drink unhealthy sugary sodas anywhere they want.”

Selling them is another matter.

While the mayor’s order contains exceptions for vending machines covered under already negotiated contracts, it directs department heads to have new contracts conform to the new standards.

That’s the case in the current bidding process for a five-year lease to run a cafe in the basement of City Hall. The vending machine requirement will also be included when bids go out for a cafe at the Hall of Justice, Deputy City Administrator Amy Brown said.

Chong Park, who’s managed the City Hall Café for nine years, says she averages less than $100 a month on her cut from two gleaming red Coca-Cola machines at the doors to her cafe. But with the future lease on the space up for grabs, she’s trying to bring the stock in her refrigerator cases in line with Newsom’s directive, and that’s going to impact her bottom line, Park said.

She gets about 15 percent of her business selling those sodas, and replacing them with 100 percent juice will be expensive, Park said.

“The future is going to be affected,” Park said. “But I don’t want to be in trouble with the mayor. I like him very much.”

Reem Nasra, who runs the Mint cafe at the Civic Center branch of San Francisco Superior Court, has put in a bid for the City Hall cafe.

“As far as meeting the guidelines,” Nasra said, “I don’t have any issues with that.”