Much was written a few weeks ago on the U.S. Department of Justice’s move to block the potential merger between global beer giants AB Inbev and Grupo Modelo. I, too, considered writing on the situation, but just wasn’t able to find an angle from which to comment. The story largely fell from the news cycle, and I moved on in search of another topic better suited to The Hip Flask’s appreciation of drinking culture.
National Public Radio’s Caitlin Kenney got me thinking about the story again, this time in an entirely new manner. Kenney’s article centers upon a great world map showing the various brands owned by the world’s top two beer conglomerates, the aforementioned AB Inbev and Grupo Modelo. When combined, their brands total 210 in 42 countries. Below the map appears a listing of the various brands owned by each company (separately identified by color) and alphabetized by country.
Both the map and list are helpful, but in different ways. As I wrote previously, “developing world” (i.e., second and third world) beer sales are skyrocketing, a fact the map clearly highlights. Although “the fastest growing beer market in the world right now is China, and several South American markets are growing rapidly as well,” the high concentration of SABMiller brands in Africa and Central America further reiterates my earlier point.
While the geographic depiction is interesting for its own sake – I love looking at maps, most any maps – more interesting to note are the countries in which the two conglomerates do not own many brands, namely Germany and Belgium.
Germany and Belgium are important to this discussion for two reasons: first, they are the top two producers of beer brands;* second, the two only account for a combined 20 of AB Inbev and MillerCoors brands (<10%). Logically, this means the vast majority of brands in the two countries are independently owned or owned by smaller corporations (other than the aforementioned super-conglomerates). Unfortunately, independent/non-conglomerate ownership tends to translate into difficulty in finding those brands here in the states. Therefore many German and Belgian brews – likely some of their best – are not easily procured.
While some may find the map and corresponding list of brands helpful as a starting off point for exploring beers from around the world, others may prefer to use it for the opposite purpose – as a pocket “do not buy” list to help them avoid mass produced beer in favor of beer produced by smaller breweries. It might be more work and cost a few dollars extra, but you might find a new favorite, and perhaps have another excuse to take a vacation to visit an ages-old brewery.
* There isn’t a clear answer when attempting to determine the exact number of beer brands produced in Belgium and Germany. Numbers vary between sources and oftentimes the terms “brand” and “brewery” are confused. Most sources agree, however, that Germany and Belgium are the top two producing nations, with the Czech Republic or Austria rounding out the top three.
Graphic credit: Caitlin Kenney and Lam Thuy Vo / NPR