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Beer Has Never Been So Profitable

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- It may not pay to drink beer, but investing in suds is another matter.

Boston Beer's (SAM) stock has jumped 41% since it was first featured as an Under the Radar pick at the beginning of January, compared with a 2% decline in the Russell 2000 Index, a gauge for small-cap stocks. Boston Beer crushed first-quarter earnings estimates and benefited from a favorable tax change.

The Boston-based company may not be familiar to some, but its flagship brand probably is. Boston Beer makes the successful Samuel Adams beer, and the company is now the largest American-owned brewery after InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch to create Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) in 2008.

Analysts predicted earnings of 24 cents a share in the first quarter, compared with 10 cents a year earlier. Boston Beer made those estimates look puny by producing earnings of 44 cents. Revenue was predicted by analysts to grow 5.7% in 2010 and 9% in 2011, but those estimates were revised to 8.1% in 2010 and 8.3% in 2011 after the blowout first quarter.

Consumers tend to trade down in price -- and quality -- during recessions. As consumers pinch pennies, out of fear or necessity, pricier brands feel pressure on sales, depressing earnings and sending stocks lower. But certain brands have weathered the recession well and are now in a position to soar even higher during the turnaround.

Over the past year, Boston Beer's stock has gained a whopping 126%, while the ADRs of SABMiller (SAB), the parent company of the Miller Brewing Co., have gained 35%. Such outperformance is surprising, considering that Anheuser-Busch and SABMiller should perform better than Boston Beer during a downturn due to their cheaper brews.

Even though Boston Beer has its roots in the craft-beer market and is priced at a premium to other mass-market competitors, its profitability hasn't suffered.

Due to Boston Beer's run up in price, its forward price-to-earnings ratio has exceeded that of the industry -- 23.8 versus 16.7. That suggests there's a diminishing value in the stock. The company also trades at a price-to-book ratio of 5.63, twice that of the industry.

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