Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Miller Picks Up Malt Liquor Brands

By William Brand
Monday, July 3rd, 2006 at 11:56 pm in Uncategorized.

If you care about good beer, then this item most likely belongs in the “small news” category. SABMiller on Monday (July 3, 2006) said it has purchased the Steel Reserve and Sparks brands from McKenzie River Corp., San Francisco for $215 million cash.

The most interesting thing about this deal is who McKenzie River Corp. is. It is a marketing company that first broke ground in urban neighborhoods (that translates as mostly poor and black) around the U.S. selling “40s” – high alcohol, low price, – through mom and pop stores.

Remember St. Ides? How about Black Star?

Their latest gig was selling Steel Reserve, followed a couple of years ago by Spark, then Spark Light and now Spark Plus.

Here’s a quote from SABMiller:

“Sparks is considered the leader in the caffeinated alcoholic malt beverage category, which is particularly strong among men between the ages of 21 and 27, he said. Steel Reserve is the leader in the high gravity lager category, meaning it is slow-brewed.”

Here’s what wholesaler Origlio Beverage says:

Sparks – Sparks blends 6% alcohol with an injection of caffeine, taurine plus natural herbs guan and ginseng, which are “scientifically combined to add that extra dimension to the party experience.” Go all night! Alcohol Content 6%

Sparks Light – This version of the highly caffeinated malt beverage energy drink has only 128 calories and 3 grams of carbs and uses Splenda sweetener instead of sugar. Now you can enjoy this premium energy drink without any guilt. Makes you want to party all night long– doesn’t it?

Sparks Plus – Sparks Plus is hitting the market by storm! This line extension of Sparks, the #1 selling alcohol-energy drink, has enhanced caffeine and 7% alcohol.

Origlio had this to say about Steel Reserve:

Steel Reserve is the only domestic lager in the U.S. that is 8.1% alcohol by volume. It is brewed with nearly twice the ingredients of other lagers and for nearly twice as long and has a well rounded medium body. The result? A beer that’s surprisingly smooth for a “high gravity” lager.

Balderdash. There are lots of craft brew lagers above 8 percent. Anyway, Steel Reserve tastes like not much. I give it ONE STAR – MINUS.

Oh yes. Miller’s been brewing Steel all along and, I believe, Sparks. But here’s the bottom line:
According to Beverage Marketer’s INSIGHTS, McKenzie River shipped 1,250,000 barrels of Steel Reserve in 2005, a 25 percent increase over 2004. That put it just ahead of number 23 Coors Original, which shipped 1,200,000, down 13 percent, and number 24 Pabst Blue Ribbon, which shipped 1,250,000 barrels, up 4.3 percent.

To put it in context, ALL American craft brewers shipped 7,112,886 31-gallon barrels in 2005, up 9 percent over 2004. That puts all 1,300-plus brewers just behind the sixth best-selling brand in America, Corona Extra (which shipped 7,845,000 barrels and ahead of number seven Busch (the low-cost Anheuser-Busch beer), which shipped 5,025,000 barrels.

According to Beer Marketer’s INSIGHTS, top seller was Bud Light (39,600.000 barrels), number two was Budweiser, (27,400,000 barrels) and number three, Miller Lite (18,100,000).

Number four was Coors Light (16,500,000); five was Natural Light (8,350,000).
This last factoid: A barrel of beer is equal to 330.6 12-ounce cans. G’nite and have a happy, safe, 4th.

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