Friday 9 October 2009

Yet Another Intersection of Beer and Bicycles: Lance Shills Weak Beer


Get fit and thin by drinking beer!
("Beer Belly Blues" byDJ@buzztwang, Creative Commons)

It has been announced the Lance Armstrong will now be the spokesman for Michelob Ultra beer and the first commercial is in preparation. Johnny Mellow was previously known for his attachment to Shiner, a beer brewed not far from his home of Austin, Texas in the village of Shiner (pop. 2000). A few years ago, I was in Texas and stopped on a hot afternoon in Fredericksburg. I was offered a Shiner beer and, wanted to try a local specialty, was happy to take it. It was served to me in a huge glass mug, which was taken straight out of the freezer! Needless to say, beer served at this temperature has absolutely no taste at all. It was wet, cold and pretty weak, so I was not very impressed. A subsequent tasting of a Shiner under better circumstances did little to change my initial perception.

At least the brewery, founded by Kosmos Spoetzl (!) in 1909 is a local institution. Lance Armstrong has now become the spokesman for a beer produced by the gargantuan Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer with 25 percent of the global market. And a strange beer it is, being both low-carb and low-calorie. Launched in 2002, this light beer is meant to appeal to people who don’t like beer very much and has come out in flavours (Pomegranate Raspberry, Cactus Lime, Tuscan Orange Grapefruit) to get a part of the wine cooler market. A bottle of the regular Ultra has 95 calories and 2.6 g of carbs, while the fruity ones are 107 calories and 6 g.

Michelob Ultra has gotten into sponsorship of cycling events, including the Tour of Missouri, and has been involved in other events as its ads all suggest it is a beer for the active, sporting type. The beer is cheap and almost colourless and by many accounts has as little flavour as Shiner. I will admit that on some cycling trips or during intense periods of training I have had alcohol-free Erdinger Weissbier, which is made in Bavaria and quite passable, since there is no alcohol to make me feel tired. As one reviewer remarked about Ultra:

Again, what does this mean to us? Your average non-diet mass produced beer such as Budweiser and Heineken have approximately 150 calories and 11 grams of carbs per 12-ounce serving. Guinness clocks in at a remarkably low 130 calories and 10 grams of carbs for a comparable 12-ounce serving. This means that you may as well drink what you want and what you like- even the average 200lb calorie-oblivious dolt can burn almost 100 calories by watching TV or sleeping for an hour.
The review described the beer as being so light it was like seltzer with a twist of corn.

A Belgian Icon
(Mannekin Pis, photo by Hot Grill, Creative Commons)

Michelob Ultra is about one-tenth as popular in the United States as A-B InBev’s Bud Light, a genuinely terrible beer. It is not clear if Mr. Armstrong’s endorsement will help it much but I cannot think in the way that Lance has encouraged Americans to take up cycling, it would have been nice to encourage Americans to drink better beer, such as that of a craft brewer like New Belgium Brewing. On the other hand, New Belgium, which began on a bike ride, probably doesn’t have revenues of US$25 billion a year either.

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