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As the world’s largest brewer, Anheuser-Busch (A-B) holds a unique perspective on the state of beer in America today. Fortunately for beer lovers, the company currently sees a lot of potential, particularly when it comes to people’s increased interest in understanding the full spectrum of beer. Through its 12 craft partners—Karbach, Blue Point, Goose Island, and Wicked Weed, to name just a few—and the expansion of its education efforts, A-B has made it a priority to broaden consumers’ horizons and, in turn, elevate the entire beer category.
Much of this began with the launch of Elevate in 2017, a program created to inspire a better beer industry through commitments to quality, sustainability, and community—and to put beer front and center. “We have some of craft beer’s true pioneers on our team,” says Ryan Daley, A-B’s senior educator and Master Cicerone®. “They were taking their passion for brewing and trying to figure out how to use the scale and resources of A-B to make a bigger and better impact on the industry.” What resulted was more than just a business plan for Elevate; it was an ethos centered on moving the beer industry forward, developed in partnership with A-B’s craft advisory board, which includes all of the founders and general managers of the craft breweries.
Higher Standards Through Higher Education
To encourage the national conversation to be more substantive, the company is doubling down on beer education in the Brewers Collective, the craft business unit of A-B. “We are training our staff to become Certified Cicerones®,” says Daley, who adds that since the inception of the Cicerone® program, more than 130 employees have earned certification. This education serves as a backdrop for everything they do, from assisting retailers and on-premise accounts to designing engaging educational materials for the general beer consumer. The primary goal of these efforts is to infuse the entire chain—from the brewer all the way to the consumer—with a better understanding of beer’s nuances.
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Daley—who is one of only 18 Master Cicerones® in the world—says that a major appeal of the Cicerone® program is how it merges the breadth of variety of beers with the importance of service. “The Cicerone® program,” he says, “helps our people better assist retailers, on-premise accounts, and restaurants with such things as what beer they’re serving, how they’re serving it, and how to pair it. Our staff gets a lot of that training through this program.”
Emphasizing the Many Shades of Beer
Tapping into people’s increased curiosity about beer means opening the Pandora’s box of beer styles. But Daley explains that he is constantly pushing against the headwinds of people’s narrow interests. “When someone tells me they don’t like beer,” he says, “my response is often ‘You haven’t found the beer that you like yet.’”
He describes a scenario that he sees all too often in the U.S.: “Sometimes you’ll go into a bar and they have a dozen handles. Half of them are some form of IPA, and another third are big imperial stouts. They’re all good beers on their own, but at the same time, it doesn’t do beer justice in terms of the range that it can actually bring to the table.”
By pairing trade- and consumer-based education with A-B’s diverse portfolio of craft partners, Daley believes the company is raising America’s awareness of the beer category as a whole. Across the nation, retailers and restaurateurs can count on A-B’s wide range of craft beers to engage consumers. By mirroring the constant innovation within craft beer, A-B celebrates a range of styles that continue the overall industry’s goal to broaden the craft consumer base and to create new consumption opportunities within the entire beer category.
Daley compares the beer industry with the wine industry, which has seen growth in new sectors as different styles and once-fringe varieties have gone mainstream. “One of the things that the wine industry has also done a good job of is treating the product with respect—the presentation, the glass, the service,” Daley says. “The craft brewing revolution in the United States has not only reignited interest in beer, but we’re starting to see people give beer more respect.”
A-B is also leveraging its vast resources to improve the use of technology in its craft breweries, thereby raising the standards for quality and consistency in beer. Additionally, the company’s craft breweries now include “best consumed by” dating on all their beers. This transparency not only gives brewers a better chance to showcase their beers during optimal drinking windows but also better informs consumers when to drink their beer by.
A Better Environment
The beverage business as a whole has increasingly progressed toward sustainability in recent years. Consumer demand has fueled growth in a variety of sectors, including local distilleries and natural wines. Beer is no different, and with its size and scale, A-B has committed to a series of ambitious sustainability targets for its craft breweries.
By 2020, all of A-B’s existing craft breweries will be transitioned to 100 percent renewable electricity. Additionally, the company pledges to reduce water usage by 20 percent in these breweries by the same year. “As the largest brewery in the world,” says Daley, “we’re using a lot of raw ingredients and energy. The question becomes: How do you make sure that you’re doing that in the most responsible way? This program is our way of keeping ourselves in check.”
Fostering the Communities That Fostered Beer
The rise of craft brewing occurred on a local level, and nothing could be more important to sustaining the industry’s future than supporting sustainable communities. From local food banks to environmental efforts and medical charities, A-B’s craft breweries have all supported local causes that they’re passionate about. Now A-B is amplifying those efforts by committing $2 million in donations to support the local causes that are most important to the individual craft breweries.
Daley notes that this area is particularly crucial for employees of A-B, adding that “it’s about being better stewards of the communities we live in.”
Shining a Spotlight on Beer
A-B’s 12 craft partners are on the leading edge of innovation, forging the next chapter for beer in America. “What you have is this perfect marriage,” says Daley. “These brewers were already making world-class beer, and then you bring in these additional resources—access to new ingredients, more advanced technology, more capital for expansion. It really sets our breweries up perfectly.”
This mutually advantageous partnership, Daley notes, comes back to broadening beer’s consumer base by converting casual beer drinkers into passionate aficionados—something to which everyone in the beer industry can raise a glass.
The Anheuser-Busch brands deliver enhanced sales for restaurateurs because of the way in which they tap into regional and demographic taste sensibilities.
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