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Beer: It's What's for Dinner

Wednesday, Feb 9 2000
February 9, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO -- In February 1999, Fritz Golger attended the International Food Fair at the Marin Civic Center just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, in search of the inspiration that might turn his luck around. Without a new product to distinguish his microbrewery, the Veritas Brewery Co., from the thousands of other small beer-makers with access to the national market, he would have to close down the business that his father built. Just past a Japanese fresh-frozen fried calamari seller and across from the hawkers of a mineral water exclusively marketed to dogs, Golger struck gold: PowerBar.

"Right then and there I knew I would be the first to bring to market the future of beer: an energy beer," recalls Golger, who subsequently closed a deal with PowerBar Inc., the leading manufacturer of energy bars, to produce a nutritious beer drink. For an undisclosed amount, the Veritas Brewing Co. licensed the use of PowerBar's proprietary TriSource protein and began concocting the strange brew that would eventually be sold as InnerG.

It is the first time in at least a century that beer has been made and marketed as a meal. In the 1800s, Britons of all ages consumed a porridgelike beer for breakfast and lunch. But as living standards rose in Europe with the advent of the Industrial Revolution, beer became more of a drink than a dinner. Fast forward to the late 1990s, when the demands of the workplace have sharply increased the number of hours logged by white-collar workers, especially in the U.S., which has surpassed Japan as the leader among major developed nations in annual hours worked per person.

Golger, who sometimes visits with customers at his Palo Alto-based brewpub, noticed that many of his happy hour guests were actually taking early evening breaks at his bar before returning to work. The same hard-working night owls often ordered "a beer with an espresso back." It was with this growing market in mind that Golger developed InnerG.

Although brewed like most beers, InnerG receives a last-minute infusion of simple and complex carbohydrates, antioxidant vitamins, and amino acids before being flash pasteurized and bottled. This allows Golger to label his product as both a dietary supplement and an alcoholic beverage. But advertising this hybrid drink may be more complicated than the process by which it is created.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms proscribes advertising that suggests the consumption of alcoholic beverages will enhance athletic prowess, performance, or health. Golger complains that this restriction prohibits his company from properly describing and effectively promoting InnerG, which, in addition to its 4 percent alcohol content, contains ingredients widely accepted as "performance-enhancing."

"The rules haven't yet caught up with the reality of the market," complains Golger. "We're the ones pushing the envelope, and naturally we're the ones who will have to fight for fair labeling laws."

Regardless of the outcome of the labeling dispute, Golger's company now faces another and potentially more threatening opponent: a legal challenge by a coalition of seven African-American community organizations. The lawsuit, filed by Empower Our Inner City Communities (EOICC), accuses the Veritas Brewing Co. of unfairly targeting poor communities, where alcoholism and malnutrition are already large problems. "An alcoholic beverage that is meant to be consumed in lieu of a square meal may seem like a clever gimmick to some people," argues EOICC spokesperson Antoine D'Suzen, "but it's a devastating and calculated blow to others."

In its legal brief, the EOICC cites the name of Golger's brew, InnerG, as evidence of targeted marketing. "G" is widely used as shorthand for "gangster" or "gang member" in urban slang.

South to the Future's stories contain fictional and factual elements. Except when public figures are being sati- rized, any use of real names is accidental and coincidental. Comments?

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