Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The International Political Economy of Beer

. Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fallows finds the puzzle in a series of posts motivated by the First Annual White House Beer Summit (this year's featured topic: race relations!), but does not proffer a theory. That's too bad, because there has got to be an interesting explanation for why most Asian (and many Latin American) beers are watery and non-hoppy, why Anglo beers are heavier (and often served warm), why German beers are made of unfiltered wheat, why Bud Light is the best-selling beer in a country that boasts of such an amazing array of inventive micro-breweries. What's the unifying theme here? What explains cross-national divergence? Is it about natural characteristics? Accidents of history? Simple resource scarcity and/or weather constraints (I've heard this convincingly explain patterns of wine production)?

Surely somebody has written a long-form article or book on this topic, but I don't know of it. Can readers help?

Now that I about it, this post should probably be titled "The Sociology of Beer".


Sarah Bauerle Danzman said...

cross-national difference are due mostly to 1) what type of starch has typically been available for fermenting and 2) how cold you can keep the beer (before modern refrigeration) because this determines where the yeasts ferment within the beverage (top, bottom, or spontaneous) (I use to waitress for a restaurant that took pride in its beer selection)

German beer owes a lot to a strong special interest political heritage. Guilds helped keep the Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian Beer purity law) on the book from about 1487 until the EU forced Union-wide unification of food and beverage standards. The Reinheitsgebot limited allowable ingredients to water, barley, and hops.

There's more intra-country heterogeneity now due to migration patterns and culture mixing not to mention increased ability to control brewing temperatures and to import different starches.

Bud Light is the best selling beer in the US because Americans value quantity over quality and eat and drink crappy stuff in general. It would be interesting to see more granular demographical information about beer consumption. I drink almost only microbrews, but I am a light and infrequent drinker (as you all know so well). I'd bet that two of the reasons that Bud Light sells so well are 1) people who drink a lot drink crappy beer (due to cost and lack of knowing any better and because people who drink a lot drink to get drunk rather than for the taste) and 2) Bud Light has many successful commercial deals with sports arenas and other areas that have high volume sales.

Kindred Winecoff said...

That all makes sense. But I'd quibble with the quality/quantity distinction. After all, fully-leaded Budweiser is just as cheap as Bud Light, but Bud Light is much more popular. MGD is just as cheap as Miller Lite (and High Life is cheaper still), but Miller Lite is much more popular.

I wonder how much the prevalence of light beers in the U.S. has to do with women. Pure speculation, but it seems that American women drink more beer than European women (who drink more wine), and light beers have fewer calories. For an image-obsessed culture, this could explain part of it.

Make any sense?

Sarah Bauerle Danzman said...

Yes, makes sense. But also, I know that if people are going to play drinking games they often get light beer so that they can consume more . . . . beer pong anyone?

The International Political Economy of Beer




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