Jan. 10, 2013 at 1:42 PM ET
There’s a storm brewing in the beer world that kicked up to Category 3 recently when the Brewers Association, a trade group representing America’s independent craft beer makers, called out the corporations that mass-produce Keystone Light, Milwaukee’s Best and Budweiser for marketing products that appear to be craft beers, but don’t quite qualify.
“The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers,” the Brewers Association said in a statement. By their definition, a craft brewer is one that makes less than 6 million barrels of beer per year and is less than 25 percent owned by a big brewing company. “We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.”
Sales of craft beer have been booming for the past few years, growing by 13 percent in 2011, even while overall beer sales in the United States shrunk by 1.3 percent. The numbers from the first half of 2012 show this growth continuing full steam.
The big brewers want a taste of the action, and have wisely tried to obscure the corporate origins of the brands they push into the craft beer aisle, understanding that in the world of craft beer “big” is sometimes considered to be “bad.”
Examimer.com recently conducted a poll asking people if they cared who brews their beer, and 95 percent of them said yes; they try to support local craft brewers and/or avoid buying brands made by large brewing companies. Online polls should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s still a telling statistic.
So it makes sense that there’s no indication anywhere on Blue Moon’s label or website that the brand is wholly owned by brewing giant MillerCoors, and that Anheuser-Busch InBev omits the fact that it owns the Shock Top brand of beer. Such links would damage their craft beer credibility and hinder sales to people who prefer to support small, independent breweries.
I count myself amongst those ranks, for one very good reason.
In the late 1970s, there were 89 breweries in the United States, most of which were pumping out fizzy yellow lagers on a massive scale. There was little variety or creativity on the American beer scene, just lots of “Tastes Great! Less Filling!” during televised sporting events. It was a bleak time if you were someone looking for flavorful and interesting brews.
Fast forward to today and there are over 2,000 breweries pumping out an amazing variety of bold and innovative beers, and that number is growing steadily. As a consumer, I want to see the world of craft beer continue to grow in wonderful and unexpected ways, so I want my money going to the people who are driving the innovation – the thousands of small craft breweries that now dot the American landscape. I like lambchop sideburns as much as the next guy, but I don’t want to see the world going back to the way it was in 1978.
I’m all for people drinking whatever beer they like – Budweiser, Miller and Coors all produce very consistent products that require a high degree of technical prowess to get right – but I’d also like people to know who makes the beer they buy, just so it’s clear to whom their beer money is flowing.
As Stone Brewing Company founder Greg Koch told Fortune’s Denis Wilson, “If you want to listen to Milli Vanilli, I suppose that’s a choice you get to make. Just know that you’re making that choice.”
So what do you think? Do you care who makes your beer, or do you only care if your beer tastes good?
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