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Beermakers are brewing up creativity

Lift a beer with your burger this glorious Fourth of July to toast our independence — and the global interdependence of the golden brew.

Although the board of Anheuser-Busch rebuffed the offer by the giant Belgian brewer InBev last week, the beer business is already multinational. And it is consolidating and diversifying endlessly.

Taste the rosy sweet Michelob Ultra Pomegranate Raspberry and you might think Belgians already ran Anheuser-Busch.

Or not: Belgium's best fruitlambics are sweet but seem more polished. Then there's Anheuser's Shock-Top, which calls itself a Belgian white. And it also imports several InBev brands, Belgian and otherwise.

Beer is big — planetary big. The thirst runs from Manchuria to Rio, not just Britain, Germany and all-American baseball games. Big-world brewers can come from small beer-loving countries, including Belgium, Australia and South Africa.

South Africa? Yes, SAB Miller, the world's second-largest brewer, is based in London but started in South Africa, and now owns both Miller and Molson Coors.

That means a world of tastes, good, bad, provincial, homogeneous, authentic and artificial.

Yet the beer behemoths know and aim to serve that diversity. InBev calls only Beck's and Stella Artois its global brands; its dozens of "local champions" lead in Ukraine, Brazil and beyond.

In the United States, Pabst has a special affection for locally beloved beers. It now has 20 or more regional beers from Texas' Lone Star to the Mid-Atlantic's National Bohemian.

More often, big U.S. brewers have expanded their own brands in light, dry, draft and ice versions in various price ranges.

In the last 30 years, as Americans developed a taste for imported beers, trucks of local Bud, Coors and Miller distributors brought them to your neighborhood bar.

Yet the rebirth of microbrews, artisan breweries, craft beers and home brewers (themselves inspired by the grand diversity of imported beers) truly forced the giant brewers into creativity. Not always wisely: Several states have forced Bud to reformulate high-energy Bud Extra and Tilt, spiked with raspberry, caffeine, ginseng and guarana, more like a berry, beery Red Bull.

Now the big boys also make porters, bock, wheat beers, high-gravity brews and summer ales. They brag about quality and quantity of hops and seek craft beer contest medals for their corporate microbrews.

The smaller craft brewers, who also have dozens of products, get some of the credit/blame for the Baskin-Robbins flavors of coffee, pumpkin and blueberry.

Usually small brewers worry more about grain, hops and malt than fruit flavors. Big brewers recognize that those distinctive tastes are appealing and try to draw them into their stable. Pabst formed an alliance last year to distribute the fine craft brews of Southampton, while Anheuser-Busch distributes Kona, Redhook and Widmer.

So fret not that Budweiser will lose its all-American identity — or that true, homegrown innovators will lose out. There's a world of difference to sample and much of its kick comes from Yankee ingenuity and crafty brewing.

All the more reason to hoist a mug to independents.

Chris Sherman can be reached at csherman@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8585.

99 bottles of beer

Here's a sample of the vast brand holdings of the big four U.S. brewers and Belgium's InBev.

Anheuser-Busch

Bare Knuckle Stout • Bud Dry • Bud Extra • Bud Ice Light • Chelada • Michelob Porter • Michelob Golden Draft • Hurricane High-Gravity • King Cobra • Rolling Rock • Skip Jack • Tequiza • Bacardi Silver Mango Mojito • Tilt 8.0%

Its Imports: Bass, Beck's Boddington, Czecvhvar, Grolsch. Harbin, Hoegaarden, Kirin, Leffe, Lowenbrau, Stella Artois, Tennets and more.

Coors

Bass • Blue Moon • Coors • Keystone • Killian's • Molson • Zima • Worthington's

Miller

Hamm's • Henry Weinhard • Icehouse • Leinenkugel • Mickey's • Milwaukee's Best • Miller Genuine Draft • Miller High LifeMiller Lite • Olde English • Red Dog • Sharp's • Southpaw Light.

Its imports: Foster's, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Tyskie, Cusquena and more.

Pabst

Blatz • Carling's Black Label • Champale • Colt .45 • McSorley's • Old Milwaukee • Pabst Blue Ribbon • Pearl • Piels • Olympia • Rainier • Schaeffer • Schlitz

InBev

Bass • Brahma • Beck's • Stella Artois • Hoegaarden • Klinskoye • Leffe • Stavropramen

Beermakers are brewing up creativity 07/01/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 2, 2008 9:02am]

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