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.
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?