Anyone who tries to tell you that the macro-brewers of the BMC world aren’t worried about the continual expansion of the craft beer industry simply isn’t telling you the truth. To put it more simply: They are telling lies. Either that, or they are themselves misled or willfully ignorant of how the sudsy landscape continues to evolve. Craft beer’s segment of the total beer market may still hover around only 5% of the total in volume, but you wouldn’t know it from the way both macro-brewers and retail competitors attempt to cut in on the same perceived cash cow.
Enter the macro-produced “specialty” or “craft” lagers and ales we are all familiar with, formed in cruel mockery of time-honored, traditional beer styles. Witbier becomes Blue Moon. Schwarz-ish beer becomes that Guinness-brand “black lager.” American pale ales become the Belgian-owned AB’s so-called “American Ale.” A handful of other styles get clandestinely violated by brewers like Michelob, although to be perfectly honest a decent beer is occasionally produced. (Lump abuse on me, but I think Michelob’s brown porter ain’t bad.)
When beers like these rear their instantly forgettable heads, the typical alehead response is essentially to point and laugh, as Brother Barley recently did at the announcement of Newcastle’s new Werewolf “blood red ale.” We may try one of them out of a sense of morbid curiosity, but at best it’s a blip on the radar. After all, we’re busy men, and we have more important things to do, like argue about what we expect the nose would be like on Pliny the Younger if we ever someday inhaled it.*
*We will not.
It’s probably because of our willful ignorance of these unworthy brands, then, that we tend to miss out entirely on the existence of “faux craft” beers even further down the metaphorical quality ladder. I’m talking the horrors there are to witness in the realm of store brands.
And not “good stores” either, like the previously discussed Trader Joes beer. Even in that case, coming from a respected food vendor and apparently brewed by a respected brewer in Firestone Walker, the resulting beer is…well, let’s just say uninspired. Something about contract brewing store brand beers just seems to have a negative effect on quality, regardless of WHO is doing the brewing. It’s as if the brewers tag out like pro wrestlers, except the people tagging in are their friends and neighbors who have been “real curious about how to run those big ‘ole beer machines.”
After all, brewers like Firestone Walker know that their fans probably won’t hold a grudge against them for producing bland beer for Trader Joes. In fact, they know that their true fans probably aren’t the sort of people who buy a lot of Trader Joes beer anyway. So what’s the harm?
Unfortunately, retailers SIGNIFICANTLY less known for their selection of quality products also have declared “let’s hop in on that fancy beer market.” Welcome to the parade of truly shitty entries.
Store Brand Shit List:
Walgreens: Walgreens sells their own line of craft beer? Yup. The beers are apparently made by a company called “World Brews, Winery Exchange Inc.,” and in my experience it’s usually a bad sign when a company you’ve never heard of before tries to incorporate “world” into its name, as if to say “Please don’t notice that we’re making this in a basement. Or at the very least try not to notice how many dogs are living in the basement.”
The beer that this company makes for Walgreens is known as “Big Flats 1901” and sells for a ridiculous $2.99 per six pack. It is incredibly, frighteningly clear in appearance. It’s the lightest, most translucent beer I’ve ever seen that wasn’t called Miller Clear. As for how it tastes, one can only imagine, although this fellow sums it up with “I feel a headache coming on after finishing it.” I’m sure he means the good kind of headache, though. Seriously, go back up to the top of the page and look at that beer again.*
Edit: Stephen Colbert hilariously sampled some Big Flats 1901 on his show, saying “Wow. I am not drunk enough to enjoy this yet. That’s why Big Flats is the perfect beer to drink after you’ve already finished a sixer of beer that costs more than a carnival goldfish.”
Jewel-Osco: Behold! Buck Range Light, and San Lucas Cerveza! Made by…World Brews, Winery Exchange Inc.! Not content to only make terrible beer for one national chain, the folks at World Brews are presumably a bunch of go-getters. As in, “They GO out and GET vagrants off the street to brew beer for them.” These beers are also sold at several other national supermarket chains such as SuperValu and Kroger.
7/11: Yep. This exists. Made exclusively for the 24-hour convenience store chain by City Brewing Company in La Crosse, WI (which also makes other Jewel-brand beers), they offer both “Game Day Light” and “Game Day Ice” in 24 oz tallboys that look cartoonish in blue and gray. “Why pay $4 for two Bud Light tallboys,” 7/11 asks its customers, “when we offer Game Day Light and Game Day Ice for $1.69 each? You could save 60 cents for your child’s college fund. Or a candy bar, because your kid isn’t going to college.”
If the beer wasn’t even more offensive (and possibly radioactive) than the alternative, they might even have a point. For a good time, however, go check out some of the beeradvocate reviews for Game Day Ice, where other aleheads overwhelmingly wish they were drinking Steel Reserve and Colt .45 instead.*
*Note to breweries—if people online are saying “I wish this tasted as good as Steel Reserve,” something is probably wrong with the product you’re producing.
Costco: Yeah, Costco has it’s own line of beers as well–“Kirkland Signature Series.” They offer an actual “crafty” lineup of “German-style lager,” Hefeweizen, pale ale and amber ale. Unfortunately, the person behind the brewing is Gordon Biersch, and since most of us don’t like the offerings GB is producing when they TRY, I shudder to think of what they might do given the incentive to make something particularly cheap and bland for the national Costco Chain.
Is it just me, or does this not all raise one obvious question: Where is the country’s largest retail chain? Why is there no Walmart brand beer? The most likely guess would be that the corporate giant is simply too deeply entangled with the BMC to risk upsetting somebody by launching their own line of value brews. Not to mention that for the number of stores Walmart operates, contract brewing from some podunk Wisconsin brewery is probably not an option–they would have to build a full-time production facility.
Ultimately, though we should all be thankful as aleheads that we don’t have to think about these things too often. A man could go insane if he had to seriously consider the sub-malt liquor production values going into these beers on a regular basis. Still, like a really terrible movie that can be enjoyed in the same way that traffic accident videos can be enjoyed, the $2.99 six pack beckons. At the very least, you can feel confident that after a few “Big Flats 1901s,” your appreciation for a fine craft beer will be higher than ever.