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CASTLE MALTING NEWS in partnership with www.e-malt.com Italian
26 May, 2006

Brewing news USA: Breweries hope raise status of beer

In a state celebrated for its wine and coffee, the beer companies sometimes feel left out, The Seattle Times posted May 26.

George Hancock, chairman of Pyramid Breweries in Seattle, hopes that will change due to legislation passed last month to create a Washington beer commission.

The commission will work to raise the status of beer, like the state's wine commission has marketed that libation.

"Wine is held up as a jewel of the state, but beer is talked about as something you've got to control," Hancock said at Pyramid's annual meeting on May 24.

The idea for the commission came from the Washington Brewers Guild, a craft-brewers association, of which Hancock is president.

While the trade group tries to change beer's image, Pyramid and Redhook Ale Brewery in Woodinville keep laboring to turn a profit.

Both have operated at a loss for years. Now competition is heating up in the craft-beer segment, known as the microbrewery industry before brewers grew so big they couldn't be called "micro" anymore.

Last week, Anheuser-Busch bought the Rolling Rock brand. It is rumored to have its eye on more regional breweries. The giant maker of Budweiser already owns a third of Redhook.

At annual meetings this week, Redhook and Pyramid outlined improvement plans.

Redhook, which launched a marketing campaign last year with quirky ads and in-store displays featuring the tag "Defy Ordinary," wants to rebrand an India Pale Ale. The ale used to be called Ballard Bitter, in honor of the neighborhood where Redhook got its start.

Redhook's IPA sells well, but executives think their No. 2 brew — after ESP — could do better with a name not tied so closely to the company.

They probably have an eye on Pyramid, which renamed its IPA "Thunderhead" last fall and saw sales climb about 60 percent.

Pyramid already spent more than $100,000 on rebranding and repackaging, and moved most of its Seattle brewing to Portland to improve efficiency.

Pyramid CEO John Lennon said he doubts Anheuser-Busch will make a play for his brewery, given its large stake in Redhook and Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland, which makes a Hefeweizen that competes with Pyramid.

He also said he doubts Anheuser-Busch sincerity when it comes to craft beers.

"They're probably not as interested in the craft-beer market as they are in trying to stop the growth of the craft-beer market," Lennon said.


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