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Beer Town: Real or faux craft beer?

In the waning days of 2012, a battle that’s been simmering for a long time boiled over into what could become a full scale war.

On one side, the Goliaths of multinational beer sales, AB InBev and SABMiller. On the other side, the Davids of American craft brewing and their trade organization, the Colorado-based Brewers Association.blue-moon

The backstory is the growth and strength of craft beer.

While still a tiny percentage of overall beer sales, the dollar sales for craft brewers were up again in 2012, while brands like Michelob and Miller Genuine Draft made the Wall Street Journal’s 2012 list of “Beers Americans No Longer Drink.”

The rise of American craft breweries, which include the likes of Boston Beer Co., Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and, closer to home, Sweetwater, is an incredible success story. And the Brewers Association and its president, homebrew guru Charlie Papazian, have done an amazing job telling that story.

But now the BA is telling another story, too, crying foul on brands like Blue Moon and Shock Top, which they say are corporate beers dressed up in craft beer clothing.

Last month, Papazian, with BA’s Bob Pease and Dan Kopman of Schlafly Beer, a small craft brewery in St. Louis, unleashed a surprise attack on AB InBev and MillerCoors in an opinion piece in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The headline: “Craft or crafty? Consumers deserve to know the truth.” Here are a couple of excerpts from their argument:

“While America’s small and independent craft brewers have reached a record 6 percent market share, they lack the economies of scale and the huge marketing resources of the big brewers. They’ve relied on grassroots efforts, an appreciation for local and authentic and delicious products to attract their consumer base.

“Noting the expansion of the craft brewers’ niche and also that many beer drinkers are turning away from the mass-produced light lagers that they are historically known for, the large brewers started producing their own craft-like beers. However, they don’t label these faux-craft beers as products of AB InBev and MillerCoors. So if you are drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, you are not told it is an SABMiller product. If you crack open a Shock Top, you are not told this brand is 100 percent owned by AB InBev.”

Among craft beer drinkers I know, the BA’s more aggressive stance has been greeted with a mix of opinions. Some say it doesn’t matter where a beer comes from as long as it’s good. Others want to support smaller American companies and worry that big beer’s move to the craft beer sector could lead to less real craft beer and more faux craft beer on store shelves.

I wonder, who thinks Blue Moon and Shock Top are craft beers? And who cares?

Currently, on the beer savvy RateBeer site, Blue Moon scores 44 and Shock Top scores 18 out of a possible 100. Allagash White, a real craft beer according to the Brewers Association, scores 94.

Do you (or someone you love) drink Blue Moon or Shock Top? Do you know or care who makes it?

8 comments Add your comment

kp

January 3rd, 2013
11:40 am

“Do you know or care who makes it?”

I know who makes Sweetwater IPA and have talked to him on several occasions. Likewise for the guy who makes Terrapin Wake-n-Bake. He’s even been to my house drinking Wake-n-Bake (regular and dosed with Kahlua).

I have no idea who makes Blue Moon. I’ve never been to any of the their board meetings.

I’d rather support my local economy rather than ship my hard earned dollars overseas.

Rob W. (IL)

January 3rd, 2013
1:37 pm

I work for a large urban beer retailer. I’ve met MANY people who believe, mostly due to tricky packaging, that Blue Moon is a BELGIAN beer. (as in brewed in Belgium, by Belgians)
I have tasted BM twice at public festivals, presented as the “craft” beer.
A poor substitute. I’d never buy it.

Bottom Line : Real craft beer makes the big boys very nervous. I’ve no doubt that ALL mega-corporate brewers’ 2013 business plans intend to push as many artisans off the shelves as possible, by forcing mass produced “craft beer” down the distribution chain.

Neil M. (Boston)

January 3rd, 2013
2:11 pm

While reading Rob’s comment, I was reminded of a Milwaukee Journal story I read when I was on vacation last summer. Anyone who doubts the intention on the big beer industry should just read the last two lines of this story / interview with MillerCoors’ “craft guy”. :
http://www.jsonline.com/business/millercoors-draws-profit-from-craft-beers-v16fsoe-166194536.html

Joe

January 4th, 2013
9:05 am

It is interesting the number of people who think Blue Moon and Shock Top are craft beers, but in the end, if you like a drink, just enjoy it – I’m not sure it matters who makes it. In a way, beer snobs are gaining ground on wine snobs.

I was guilty of this myself recently when I turned down a Coors Light from a neighbor. I realized I was not being a beer snob, I was just being an ass. So I changed my mind and enjoyed a beer with him and when he’s at my house, he will be offered a Sweetwater, Bell’s, or whatever else I have that’s more crafty. Neither is wrong, just personal preference.

There’s enough criteria to judge people in place already – let them drink what they like.

Grumpy Monk

January 4th, 2013
9:38 am

Lets throw some more ones out there: Goose Island, Henry Weinhard, Lienenkugel, Red Hook, Widmer. All wannabe’s.

Bob

January 4th, 2013
11:01 am

@ Grumpy: I understand your reservations. But think the jury is still out on the fate of Goose Island beers. And I’m happy to drink your share of Bourbon County Stout.

Rick F

January 4th, 2013
11:22 am

My wife loves Blue Moon. I love that she will drink any beer with me! I won’t be drinking a Blue Moon though…..

Tommy McCormick

January 7th, 2013
11:09 am

I am all for free market and letting the public decide what they like, but the problem true craft brewers have is getting their products in front of the public. Most upstart craft brewers start with kegs and growlers. The number of taps available in their local market is relatively small in most cases, and in order for a craft brewer’s beer to go on a tap some other beer has to come off. Now you have the big boys pumping out their many versions of craft while they pressure the distributors to get these new beers on taps. So you end up with a small craft brewer or their small distributor going door to door asking for a tap competing with either the Bud or Miller house who offers all kinds of sweet back-end deals to the restaurant or bar that the the local craft brewer cannot afford. Then the next hurtle when the craft brewer moves to can or bottle packaging is competing with Bud Miller houses for shelf space. Bud and Miller’s goal is to flood the market with a huge variety of pretty “artisan” labeled products and take up as much shelf space as possible crowding out their competition. I think BA’s concern is when new potential craft beer customers dip their toe in craft beer they will end up trying some of the Mega breweries water down versions of craft and walk away unimpressed.