Is Starbucks Going to Proselytize Craft Beer?

Apparently this news is coming on a month old, but today I stumbled upon an article (which led to a curious and excited continued Googleing) about Starbucks beginning to carry beer and wine.  If you haven’t already heard this news, go ahead and let that sink in.  This energised me so much I broke my normal routine of one post per week to write about this.

A few Starbucks locations in Atlanta, southern California, and Chicago, in addition to certain locations already doing so in Seattle and Portland, will begin serving beer and wine in addition to their coffee.  And it makes good business sense when you consider the average pint cost ($5) comparative to what a keg costs a restaurant, or what a glass of wine costs compared to the whole bottle (a rule of thumb is that restaurants charge per glass what the whole bottle cost them).  Also consider that coffee profit isn’t what it used to be, with beans being more expensive for places like Starbucks to buy and roast–demand is high for Fair Trade Organic Shade Grown bla-bla-bla.

Before cries that this will increase alcoholism, or that this will make alcohol more accessible to kids and underage teens, or “people don’t want their families around drunks”, let me just point out that Applebee’s and Chili’s have been offering full service bars since forever.  And Applebee’s and Chili’s aren’t yuppie havens, they’re “family restaurants”.  Consider what Starbucks, as a franchise, is: a place for chillaxing, a place where informal as well as formal meetings occur every other half-hour, a place where artsy youths come and tweet on the free wifi, or for neighborhood college kids come to read for work or pleasure.

Now, it’s easy to mock Starbucks; I ridicule them all the time.  Say what you will about their tween baristas and their burnt coffees, but at the end of the day you have to credit them for elevating gourmet coffee.  15 years ago, go to a grocery store and your coffee selections were pretty sparse outside of Folgers or Maxwell House.  But in 2012, you can go to a friggin gas station and find fresh brewed pots of Peet’s or Seatle’s Best, as well as a gluttonous wealth of options in places like Wal Mart or Kroger.  Starbucks kinda stinks, but they are indeed trend setters, if nothing else.

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Now, put those last 2 paragraphs together and you get a marvelous, harmonious conclusion.  If and when Starbucks begins carrying beer (and wine…but whatever),  it’s going to be craft.  Bud, Coors, and Guinness attracts a certain crowd–the kind of crowd that Starbucks isn’t much interested in.  Again, the clientele there is more laid back, introspective, and palate-aware.  A demographic perfect for craft beer introduction.  There’s no doubt that Starbucks will never carry a triple IPA or a double chocolate barrel aged anise stout on nitro.  But there’s prime opportunity to introduce people to basic non-macro styles.  If worst comes to worst, Starbucks enters into an agreement with AB-InBev.  But even then, at worst you’ll have Shock Top, Stella Artois, or maybe some Red Hook or perhaps even a Hoegaarden or a Goose Island Matilda (fingers crossed on that one).

In all my Googleing, the only beers I could find being offered in these experimental shops are Rogue Dead Guy and Anchor Steam.  Excellent starts.  Starbucks will never go for the super-nerd.  It’s all about accessibility.  Unconfrontational but quality “starter beers”, if you will, will do the best.  Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Breckenridge Vanilla Porter are excellent examples, and ones that would work excellently in a coffee shop.  Ommegang Hennepin and Oskar Blues Old Chub might be pipe dreams, but they’re within reason, I think.

Consider that before Starbucks, nobody knew the words “macchiato”, “mocha latte”, or “cappuccino”.  If a trend setter like Starbucks picked up beer, and treated it seriously, people might start putting down the Blue Moon and pick up an actual witt like Avery White Rascal, or at least know what an ESB is.  Now I’m just waiting for Sam Calagione to announce his newest collaboration brew…

2 Comments to “Is Starbucks Going to Proselytize Craft Beer?”

  1. Chris 28 February 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    Imagine if they allowed individual managers or otherwise entrepreneurial folk to start their own nano-breweries inside Starbucks. The store fronts the money out of its profits, procures the equipment and ingredients through Starbucks like all their other stuff, and starts selling its own homemade, unique product? If they want to go deep with this, they could end up spawning their own unique brews under the Starbucks name. Craft brewers could then choose to collaborate with their local Starbucks as a way of promoting themselves, and differentiating their product from a “macro” craft produced by Starbucks. Or choose to bash Starbucks through the Internet and promote their product by being the anti-big corporation. Either way it seems like craft autonomy could be threatened. But I guarantee there are people who drink Starbucks and have never had a craft beer that would think about it if Starbucks had it.

    • Brian Leppla 28 February 2012 at 10:37 pm #

      hmm, never thought about a weird future universe where Starbucks creates its own national brand of craft beer. Im sure if they did though, it would sell about as well as their coffee does now, while still having the same quality as their coffee does now. Take that for what you will.

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