Beer Friday: The Zymurgist Interviews KC’s Smartest Beer Drinker

feed me kc‘s Zymurgist, Dan Ryan, says Dr. Martin Stack is Kansas City’s smartest beer drinker. Since we think Dan is Kansas City’s smartest beer blogger, we believe him.

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Dr. Martin Stack denies he’s Kansas City’s smartest beer drinker, but I can’t think of anyone else with his qualifications. He is a Professor of Management at Rockhurst University, and is the Interim Director of the Health Care Leadership Program. He has a doctorate from Notre Dame, and he gets invited to teach all over the world. Perhaps most impressive to us is that he did his doctoral thesis on the beer industry, and and he travels throughout the world researching breweries. When he was a doctoral student, he could have written his thesis on widgets or chemical waste, but he chose to write about beer, establishing an expertise that has allowed him to drink the best beers in the world in the best places in the world. That’s pretty darned smart.

I sat down with him for some extra-credit study recently at Bier Station, and he answered a few of my questions.

The Zymurgist: How did you get started in studying beer?

Dr. Martin Stack: I took a class on Wine and Civilization when I was at UMKC. Professor George Gale taught it, and it was a great class. I did a paper on the Gin Epidemics in England, and I saw that drinking could be a really serious but fun topic. I got tremendously interested in the history of alcohol in society, and that interest developed even more when I spent some time in England near a pub that had 50 cask conditioned ales. Then I spent some time in Austin when Peter Celis was starting Celis Brewery, and it was like Hoegaarden, and a heck of a lot better than Shiner Bock.

At Notre Dame, I was a research assistant for a great Professor named Phil Mirowski, and when we started talking about a dissertation topic, he asked me what I was interested in. I told him I was interested in beer, and he encouraged me to research the beer industry. There hadn’t been much written, and most economists tend to homogenize the brewing industry into just the mega-brewers and look at the pure economics of price and output. In ’92 and ’93, when I was looking at this, nobody knew how the craft brewery segment was going to factor in. So I started studying it. It’s been a great area to study!

You study the beer industry. What do you think of the Boulevard/Moortgat deal?

Every entrepreneur has to figure out an exit strategy. Duvel is a great beer, and I think they do great stuff at Brewery Ommegang, too. I’m sure that John McDonald had more generous offers, but he chose a group that has values close to his. Plus, I think the new leadership will have tremendous resources to bring to Boulevard, not the least of which will be increased distribution, which might lead to more capacity, which means even more good beer being brewed here in Kansas City.

On the topic of distribution, is the world getting smaller for the beer industry?

Not only smaller, but weirder. I was in a bar in Manila, and they had beers from Bear Republic, Stone, and Rogue that I can’t find here in Kansas City. I searched all over Switzerland for a tremendous beer from the Swiss Brewery BFM, and I couldn’t find it, but then it showed up on tap at the Beer Kitchen in Westport. It doesn’t make much sense to send a bottle of Boulevard over to Sweden when you could sell it right here, but there’s this tremendous international interest in craft beer, and it’s exciting to see the appreciation and awareness of beer growing everywhere.

Why don’t the mega-brewers, with all their resources, technology and sophistication, just wipe out the craft beer segment? If they chose to make the best porter in the world, they could do it, right?

I imagine that they could, and they have the marketing talent to make you think it is the best porter even if it isn’t. But I think the main reason they haven’t done that is they don’t need to and they don’t want to. Look at China. China became the biggest beer market in the world, surpassing the US in 2002. Now they are 50% bigger than the US. That’s where InBev looks to make money, not by fighting microbreweries in the trenches for individual taphandles. The Asian market is huge and growing, and most of the growth in population and the beer market is among relatively poor people. They want cheap beer, not handcrafted miracles of brewing science. Even in China and India, though, you’re seeing very good craft breweries emerging, perhaps on a limited scale.

Why does the market in beer differ so much from popular opinion? Experts say that fizzy lagers aren’t very good, but they dominate the market.

A lot of economists call this the problem of QWERTY. The QWERTY keyboard is not the most efficient layout, but it is what everyone is accustomed to, and so it remains dominant. The best ideas don’t always win in the market place.

Back when Prohibition was repealed, there was a lot more variety and flavor in beer, but America had a fascination with better refrigeration technology and lighter beers. The brewing industry trade journals were full of complaints that beer was being served too cold, and nobody could taste it. But that was what the public wanted, and, over time, people lost the sense of what beer used to be. Consistency and standardization became more important than quality. We used to have good cheese and good bread, too, but Wonder Bread and Kraft American wound up dominating those markets, too.

What trends do you see in the beer industry for the future?

Well, I don’t want to homogenize the beer market the way economists used to. But the biggest thing will be the dominance of Asia. That’s where the mega-brewers will battle, and that will be huge.

In the craft beer world, I think we will see a lot of collaboration and growth in Europe and the United States. It’s already happening, and I think it will continue to grow. Italy is developing a tremendous craft beer culture, but it’s just beginning to emerge from under the wine industry. There are great beers being brewed everywhere, and appreciation and awareness keep on growing. It’s a great time to be a beer drinker.

Last question — what’s the most you’ve ever paid for a beer?

You know, I don’t really spend big money on beer, because my work allows me to go to Europe and Asia at least once every year. So I get to drink these tremendous beers where they are brewed, and they aren’t that expensive. I tasted these great Italian beers in little towns in Italy, then I found them in Chicago for $70 per bottle. There’s always something good around at a reasonable price. As an economist, I’m going to find a good value. As a beer drinker, I know there’s always something new to try.

Perhaps Martin Stack isn’t the smartest beer drinker in Kansas City. But perhaps he is.

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One Response to “Beer Friday: The Zymurgist Interviews KC’s Smartest Beer Drinker”

  1. November 11, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Nice interview. I love his sentiment about buying beer.

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