BIG BEER, BIG LIES

Who makes this beer again?

Yesterday, Doc sent out an e-mail to the Aleheads asking if any of us had sampled Batch 19 yet. During a recent trip to VA, Doc was half in the bag after tucking into some delicious Bell’s Two Hearted and HopSlam pints. His bartender, taking pity on him, apparently suggested he scale back on his ABV intake by partaking in a Batch 19 instead. Doc said he enjoyed the beer…until the next morning when he discovered that Batch 19 is brewed by Tenth and Blake (the “craft” division of MillerCoors). That didn’t change his enjoyment of the beer from the night before. But it did add some context that made him question the experience.

This morning, the Czar forwarded the rest of the Aleheads an excellent article from the West Coaster (an on-line publication representing the San Diego craft beer scene). In it, the author compellingly argues against the current practice in which Big Beer markets their “craft” products without giving any indication of who is actually brewing the beer. Blue Moon is the best/worst example. Their beers are wholly brewed by Coors, but their bottles claim they’re produced by the “Blue Moon Brewing Company”. Doc had no idea who made Batch 19, and indeed, as the West Coaster author notes, neither the Batch 19 bottles nor the tap handles mention that they are brewed by a huge multi-national.

This brings up a crucial point…does it matter WHO brews your beer if you enjoy it? Should the fact that Coors made the beer have really affected Doc’s enjoyment of the Batch 19? The beer is getting decent reviews amongst beer bloggers and Doc, whose opinion holds a lot of weight amongst the Aleheads, clearly liked it. So does it matter?

Well, if you’re a regular Aleheads reader, you probably know what I’m about to say…

YES! Yes, it absolutely does matter who brews your beer. Coors’ involvement in the production of Batch 19 SHOULD play a role in whether or not Doc enjoys said beer. Now, I don’t hold anything against Doc for drinking it. Many an Alehead has been duped into consuming a macro beer from time to time thanks to their use of duplicitious marketing. Hell, Doc and I drank Blue Moon by the case back in high school (in our defense, we were 16…we were also drinking Aftershock and Goldschlager).

But why? If what’s inside the bottle is good, who gives a damn where it comes from?

It matters for reasons that Sam Calagione articulated in his recent interview with the Better Beer Authority. He noted:

I get very concerned when seeing a Blue Moon or a Shock Top growing because they don’t have the same challenges as an independent family-owned business. They don’t have the same access to market challenges or the same access to ingredient challenges. So when they go into a retailer and charge $30 less for a keg but tell the retailer that they can charge the same as Dogfish Head or Lagunitas or whatever, that is not a karmic playing field. I want to see large brewers not lose market share but I want to see the small breweries own [the market share of] what defines a craft brewery.

Couldn’t have put it better myself, Sam. In an older piece about Tenth and Blake, I likened their involvement with the Terrapin Beer Company in Athens, GA as something akin to a steroids injection. Tenth and Blake may not mess with Terrapin’s beers…and they will most likely taste as good tomorrow as they did yesterday. BUT, Terrapin getting in bed with Tenth and Blake/MillerCoors allows them to play a different game than their peers. As Calagione notes, the Big Boys can undersell the craft brewers because their economies of scale are VASTLY different than those faced by the little guys. They might not mess with Terrapin’s products, but they can give Terrapin access to capital, volume, distribution, and logistics that a similarly-sized craft brewer doesn’t have. They can quickly expand Terrapin and begin flooding the market with their products like Anheuser-Busch is doing with Goose Island. Indeed, Terrapin just announced a massive expansion that will double their capacity…thanks to the equity stake sale to MillerCoors.

As a thought experiment, imagine a top-of-the-line steakhouse opens in your hometown. The food is excellent. The prices are on par with other similar eateries. Reviews have been great. Now imagine they day after eating there and enjoying your meal, you learned that the restaurant was wholly-owned and operated by McDonald’s? How would that affect your experience after the fact? Maybe with McDonald’s vast capital resources, they are able to source and ship the meat for far cheaper than the local competition. Maybe their immense marketing budget allows them to buy up magazine and billboard ads in your hometown that the local places could never afford. Wouldn’t that bother you? If not, then you probably also don’t care that MillerCoors is making Batch 19 or Anheuser-Busch is making Honker’s Pale Ale. But I think a lot of people…perhaps even MOST people, would care.

It’s telling to me that the Big Boys are going out of their way to distance their “craft” products from the rest of their line-ups. If you looked closely at a Shock Top bottle or can, you wouldn’t know they were brewed by Anheuser-Busch. I remember Wifey McHops and Mrs. Sixpack buying a sixer of Wild Blue Lager during a trip to the Florida coast two years ago. Slouch and I had never heard of the Blue Dawg Brewery that made the beer and we were a little confused by the cartoon bulldog on the label that was clearly sketched in such a way as to mimic the iconic, Ralph Steadman-created Flying Dog labels. After some quick on-line research, it became apparent that the Blue Dawg Brewery is a fictitious company. Like Shock Top Brewing, Blue Dawg is just an Anheuser-Busch shell. Despite the fact that Budweiser is brewing the beer, there is nothing on the label to indicate that. Also, the beer was fucking terrible.

If your company is releasing a product and you are INTENTIONALLY trying to trick people into thinking it’s made by someone else, that seems problematic to me. You can argue that it shouldn’t matter who makes a beer as long as it tastes good to you, but Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors know that’s bullshit. They know that people DO care about who makes the products they put into their bodies and they’re trying to pull a fast one on you. Why would you want to support a company that lies to you? Take a look at ShockTop’s website. Do you see AB InBev’s logo anywhere? Click around…the whole thing is designed to obfuscate the fact that the beer is made by a massive, international conglomerate. That’s true of Blue Moon and Batch 19 as well (though at least the latter has “Coors Archive Brewing” in small print in the footer of the site). I can’t be the only one who finds this behavior somewhat unethical.

As for the beer itself, I haven’t consumed Batch 19, nor will I. I don’t drink Goose Island’s products anymore and I haven’t picked up a Terrapin bottle since MillerCoors got involved with them. That’s a personal choice and I’ve heard many, many people call me an idiot (and worse) for taking such a recalcitrant, hard-line stance to Big Beer’s inevitable power-grab in the world of craft beer. For me, the beer itself is certainly the most important thing…but there are other issues as well. If you taste a Blue Moon (or Shock Top) and compare them to an Allagash White or Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca…there’s, well, no comparison. The macro-produced beers are “dumbed down” versions of the classic Belgian White style. They taste like the beerly equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster that went through too many focus groups. AB and MC make their money on volume…so they need to make sure their beers appeal to the masses in a way that a more complex, “true” version of the Belgian White style (like the Allagash) might not. There’s a reason people jam orange and lemon wedges into Blue Moon and Shock Top…they just don’t taste like much without them.

Now, of course, MillerCoors isn’t going to “dumb down” Terrapin like they did with Blue Moon. And Anheuser-Busch has not (so far), adulterated Goose Island’s recipes. My point isn’t that you should worry about Big Beer turning your favorite craft brands into watery approximations of their former selves. My point is that if you look at Big Beer’s track record: Sexist marketing. Fighting pro-craft legislation at every turn. Creating insipid versions of classic beer styles. Hiding their true selves behind fake, craft “brands”…then I simply don’t see how you can support those companies.

I know…this is easily the 100th rambling essay I’ve written that bashes Big Beer. And yes, you should probably prepare yourself for at least 100 more. But this is important. The continued health and growth of the industry depends on your support of the little guys (even the big, little guys like Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, and Bell’s). By purchasing a Batch 19, or a Blue Moon, or a Shock Top, or a Blue Dawg (god forbid), you’re putting money into the coffers of Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors. You’re telling them that it’s OK to deceitfully market their products. You’re telling them it’s OK to hide an international conglomerate behind a faux-craft shell. You’re telling them you don’t mind being played the fool.

Well, I mind. I will never willingly support Big Beer. I will never willingly purchase their products. And we at Aleheads will make a solemn vow to you:

Whenever Big Beer buys out a craft brewery, we’ll be there. Whenever Big Beer buys an equity stake or invests in a craft brewery, we’ll be there. Whenever Big Beer spins off another faux-craft “brewery” and attempts to fool consumers by not telling you who actually brews the beer, we’ll be there. Whenever you see a bottle of beer in a package store and have to spend 10 minutes trying to figure out just who the hell makes it, we’ll be there.

Don’t be duped by Big Beer. If you keep supporting them, before you know it, your package store shelves will be filled with 100 different beers…all made by the same company. Be careful out there.

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40 comments

  1. Doc just pointed out the obvious parallel in the food industry where a company like Kraft owns the “gourmet” chocolate maker, Green & Black’s. Doc thinks this is less of an issue since you can look directly at the ingredient list and know whether or not they use the same ingredients as other chocolate makers (as compared to the beer industry which has no ingredients labels which means Coors can get away with using the same corn sugar in Batch 19 that they use in Coors Light).

    It’s an interesting point because there are plenty of other industries where big companies hide behind smaller shells. Personally, I think it’s equally problematic and that consumers should try to educate themselves about everything they buy…whether it be food, beer, cosmetics, or cars. If you care about the growth of small businesses within a certain industry, it would behoove you to support those businesses and not the multi-national umbrella corporations.

    I should point out that the beer industry is one of the few where I’m actively eschewing the Big Boys and listening to my conscience (I believe I had shredded Kraft cheese on my tortilla soup last night, actually). But then, I’m a huge hypocrite.

    Also worth noting…in my opinion, contract brewed beers are a completely different animal than faux-craft labels. Sure, Wild Heaven out of Atlanta is contract-brewed by Thomas Creek in South Carolina, but Wild Heaven’s recipes are followed to the letter and they have oversight over their beers’ production at the facility. Thomas Creek may not be prominently listed on the Ode to Mercy’s label, but in this case, it’s a matter of one small craft brewer using another small craft brewer’s equipment until the former can afford equipment of their own. I would consider that a slightly different animal than Anheuser-Busch hiding behind the “Blue Dawg Brewery” which operates out of their massive Baldwinsville, NY plant (incidentally, that’s where Goose Island just shifted a big chunk of their operations as well).

    That said, I do take some issue with the proliferation of private labels. Some of those seem almost as intentionally deceitful as something like Shock Top (for example, the Four in Hand IPA brewed for Whole Foods by World Brews).

  2. I just don’t know why it would be such a poor marketing idea for Coors to tell people that they’re recreating pre-prohibition Coors. If I were a Coors drinker, which I’m certainly not, I’d be interested to see what that beer tasted like before the country tried to destroy everything that beer ever was. Why do they have to hide this as a craft beer? Maybe it’s just a prettied up macro lager. A taste explosion to widen their customer’s eyes. I can’t see why that’s a bad thing. MillerCoors and any of the big brewers don’t need to draw a line in the sand and have their portfolio arbitrarily divided between “Craft” and “Macro”. Everything they make is macro. That’s what makes them successful. A target audience that makes up such a small percentage of beer’s overall market share seems like a terrible place to launch a new beer. I don’t think a macro brewer can do a spinoff like McDonalds did with Chipotle. It just doesn’t translate to this industry (The no ingredient listing and ability to lie through marketing really separates beer from the food industry). Stick with what you’re good at big guys. Leave us the hell alone.

    And yes, I thought the beer tasted pretty good. Feel free to trust a guy who had his palate ripped apart by Hop Slam for the past several hours.

  3. “Whenever Big Beer buys out a craft brewery, we’ll be there…” That’s one of the reasons I keep coming back here. I’ve got better things to do than keep track of who’s craft, who’s big beer pretending to be craft, or who was bought out by whom. So I rely on the Aleheads to keep me in the loop. You folks are like the “consumer reports” of beer, with a lot more witty sarcasm. Thanks for the heads up on Batch 19. Cheers!

    1. Thanks, Erik. It can be difficult to keep track of Big Beer’s machinations. Fortunately, the craft beer community has gotten so wary of MC and AB that any time a new label pops up on package store shelves, you’ll see at least a dozen reports about whether or not it’s truly “craft” on-line…

  4. Chicago · ·

    I still drink Goose Island because I’m supporting Chicagoans’ job by doing so. And, besides the IPA, Honkers Ale, and 312….their specialty beers are still made at the Fulton St brewery with limited, if any, involvement from AB-InBev…yes, because of AB-IB they can now use greater capacity to make wonderful beers like Madame Rose or Bourbon County Stout, but thats a trade off I and many other people are comfortable with.

    And their brewpubs still operate independently.

    1. And we certainly don’t hold that against you, Chicago. Drink whatever you want! We’re just trying to keep things on the level…

      But let’s take a second to talk about supporting local jobs. Anheuser-Busch is greatly expanding Goose Island’s capacity and has begun their inevitable march to taking over shelf space at package stores and tap handles at bars and restaurants with Goose. Now, you can argue that by purchasing Goose’s products, you’re supporting local, Chicago-based jobs (and, for the most part, you are). BUT…there are 20-30 other breweries in the Chicago-land area now (as recently reported on by our own Kid Carboy). By supporting Goose Island, you’re supporting Anheuser-Busch and their ability to muscle all of those truly local breweries out of bars and package stores. So while you might be supporting “some” local jobs by drinking Goose, you’d be supporting a lot MORE local jobs AND the continued growth of your local craft beer industry by drinking the other breweries instead. For me, it’s about taking a long-term view of things and recognizing that supporting the truly local breweries means encouraging the continued growth of your local beer industry. In the long run, that will mean many more jobs created than the ones at Goose Island.

      As for their brewpubs, they were not part of the AB sale and you shouldn’t feel any guilt (which you obviously don’t) to drink there.

    2. Plutoniumzebra · ·

      I’m afraid that, while the argument you make is a good one, in regards to supporting the work of local Chicagoans’, it’s not necessarily true. Honker’s and their IPA have been brewed at a Redhook facility in Portsmouth, N.H. for quite some time and 312 is now produced in upstate New York. I believe the only beers brewed at the Fulton facility are the more limited run beers like the line of Bourbon County Brand Stouts. Goose Island was at one point hoping to build a larger production brewhouse actually in Chicago but I haven’t heard much about that recently, and with AB-IB in the driver seat it doesn’t make any sense for them to pour money into a facility that they don’t need. Profit, profit, profit.

    3. beanocook · ·

      I just tried Batch 19 this week. It was actually pretty decent. However, I don’t think they are hiding anything. On the bottle, it clearly says, COORS. Not sure what else you need. It’s not like Shock Top at all in hiding orgins. Just thought I’d correct you about “hiding” facts. In fact I went on line and it seems Batch is talking about the recipe being from Coors. This is pretty honest by them, esp considering only 15 or so breweries exist today pre-date prohibition. In some ways, craft Brewers can’t authentically make a Pre-Prohibition style beer, unless they want to google a recipe. In a wierd way, if they did, they would be making a faux beer or bastard of the style. I have to give Coors credit, this is authentic and honest if you want to be honest with yourself. I still prefer Lagunitis or Bells, but I can drink this and not lose sleep.

  5. CZAR VLADIBEER S. BOOTIN' · ·

    When I drink macro brewed craft beer, knowingly or not, I do it ironically.

    1. Yes, but you’re tragically hip. You verbally abuse your manservant ironically too.

  6. “By the pint” is the appropriate way to be drinking Hopslam, no doubt.

  7. Sam lost me at “karmic playing field”.

    1. I think he meant it literally. The Karmic Playing Field is where the Kalamazoo Karmic’s play. You should check it out. Nice stadium. I think Thursday is bobblehead day.

      1. Well now, that makes more sense.

  8. arrogantdusty · ·

    Wonderful article. Wonderful site. I somehow didnt know about Goose Island. I feel dirty inside.

  9. I don’t drink these imitation craft beers as long as I can avoid it. Partly that’s because of the competitive advantages they maintain- as Calgione notes- and partly it’s because I like to support local, small or family-oriented businesses, and partly it’s because I think the intention of the large-scale producers is even more sinister than many think: convince someone to try something new, watch them be thoroughly unimpressed by a Budweiser American Ale, and watch them never order something new again, opting instead to remain a devoted industrial lager drinker.

    All that said, I often disagree with the basis of argument many craft beer drinkers stand on in this discussion.

    The argument for craft beer has always been simple: it’s better. It’s made with better ingredients, by a better brewer, through better methods, is stored and transported in better conditions to bars with better understanding of what’s ideal. All of this gives the drinker a better experience. Want to enjoy your beer more, drink one of these instead. That’s the important negotiation at its most basic level.

    Blue Moon, Shock Top, the Bud Ale series, et al are bad beers. They’re better than a Bud Light, in the same sense that dying in one’s sleep is better than being eaten by a shark, but more than anything else, they aren’t good.

    Yet it’s pretty rare that I hear arguments against impostor craft beers that are based entirely on taste. That is, it’s rare that I hear arguments based entirely on the subject that is supposedly the primary reason we drink craft beer to begin with.

    Goose Island got purchased by InBev. I wish they hadn’t, but they have. Personally, I’ll always choose a smaller beer over Goose Island whenever it comes to it. But what I really want to know is, Has anything changed at GI since the acquisition? Did they downsize the brewery staff? Change the ingredients? Expand the distribution/production beyond the brewer’s comfort? Are they letting GI beer sit on store shelves and in kegs longer than before? Are they killing off seasonal and small-batch beers that aren’t profitable, even if they’re very good?

    The answer to some or all of those questions might be yes. But I mean it when I say that I’ve never heard the conversation take place strictly along those lines. And frankly that’s what I’m most interested in. I drink good beer because I want it to be good. Is Goose Island less good now? Let’s talk about it.

    1. The argument you make about Goose Island is essentially the same one that I make, in the sense that, “Of all the new craft brewers in the Chicago area, am I really going to be spending much time or money drinking GI products on an every day basis?” Not when there’s Half Acre or Revolution or Haymarket, etc, etc, floating around. Perhaps an occasional special release from one of the Goose Island brewpubs will catch my eye, but that’s about it.

      A first for me: I’ve never heard someone suggest that AB purposely made Bud American Ale crappy in an attempt to dissuade drinkers from trying any other fancy craft brews. You are a cynical SOB, you know that?

      1. akeatts · ·

        Oh, I don’t think they intentional make it bad. I just don’t think they necessarily care how crappy it is. It’s a heads I win, tails you lose situation. Make it good, and you’ve picked up a little shelf space long-term, taken back some market share and turned a little profit. Make it bad, and you’ve picked up a little shelf space short-term, taken back some market share and turned off a few customers from looking at beer as a product that’s meant to taste good in the future. Both are winning scenarios.

        Now I realize that our arguments aren’t that different. Like I said, I’m not going to buy Goose Island, so long as I have a better alternative. What I’m saying is that the terms of the conversation should at least acknowledge the quality of the product, since that’s what craft beer is meant to be about in the first place. I’ve read this article as well as the West Coaster article now, and neither has even mentioned if InBev has made any meaningful changes to Goose Island beer since purchasing the brewery. I’m genuinely interested. Has the quality changed? Many people don’t care about supporting a small, local company. Let’s pretend I’m one of them. Why should I stop drinking Goose Island, now that they’re owned by an international corporation driven primarily by shareholder profit?

        I’m drinking a Firestone Walker Double Jack right now. It tastes fantastic. If they were purchased by McDonald’s tomorrow, but kept making this beer to the exact standard as the one that’s in my glass right now, it’d be hard for me to stop drinking it. It really tastes good.

        1. There are other things to consider as well, in addition to if recipes of the base beers happen to have changed (I have no idea, by the way). One thing, when it comes to Goose Island, was the recent announcement five of their specialty beers being discontinued and replaced with one old one returning and one new one.

          http://beerpulse.com/2012/01/goose-island-reveals-new-beers-and-discontinuations-in-2012-schedule/

          Given that kind of net loss, you might be looking at a shrinkage there in the number of things they make per year, in order to make greater amounts of whatever is profitable.

          1. Thank you. This is what I was looking for.

            I realize my first post was long, and any reasonable person probably opted to skim it, but my series of rhetorical questions was meant to suggest that we can take a broad definition of “the quality of a brewery’s product.” One of those questions specifically mentioned whether seasonal or specialty batches were being scaled back due to profitability, and it looks like the answer to that question is a big, fat, unappealing “yes.”

            So that pretty much satisfies my inquiries. It’s just that when I hear that a company’s product has been co-opted by its being acquired by an international corporation, my inclination is to ask, “So what has the new ownership changed?” In this case, it looks like the initial answer is that ABInBev has squelched the spirit of experimentation that drives most craft beer brewers and drinkers.

          2. beanocook · ·

            What I don’t get is why do we craft drinkers need to completely avoid macro craft? Are we insecure? Shouldn’t the best beer win? Sure, ingredients are more expensive for craft, but this forces craft to make better beer to win. If the playing field was “level” then where is the incentive to make better beer to make money or survive? It’s odd we focus on “level playing field” when the fact is, the playing field being unlevel has FORCED craft to make great beers, not merely good enough beers to surivie. Thank god.

            I am not going to ban consuming macro because it would be an artificial market force and allow good enough craft to survive. I want great beer, not merely good enough beer.

    2. beanocook · ·

      Don’t you know, taste matters not? It’s all about the banking relationship these brewers have. I like to call these people, Bizzaro World Beer Geeks. The kind of beer geek where banking relationships, not brewing ability or taste, is what matters. Kind of odd, but you have the same thing in common with the Natty Light drinker, finance is your only driver on the beer purchase decision.

  10. Anonymous · ·

    The problem with the Macro Breweries is essentially that there fringe “craft beers” (ShockTop) eventually catch hold in the market. The Big Guys have enormous pull in terms of ingredients. My worry is in 5-10 years they start making more flavorful beers to weed out the craft market, because they demand the ingredient market. Hop Shortage, bleh, AB-Inbev doesn’t care, We need to make our flavorful Platinum beer, Shock Top needs more hops for its wheat IPA…

    The big breweries need to stay in the light lager category indefinitely IMO….

    1. Of course, if the likes of AB or MillerCoors were actually making good, craft-comparable beers, one of our major arguments against them would stop existing. The one argument that would probably continue to exist no matter what is not supporting a business that levels the kind of underhanded tactics that they do against their competition.

    2. beanocook · ·

      I will say, the gap between Shock Top and Blue Moon is larger than the gap between Blue Moon and Sierra Nevada. Shock Top is $30-50 cheaper per keg to the bar owner. Blue Moon is nearly line priced with crafts like Sierra. That said, I swear half of the complaint of the Macro’s is sour grapes. It’s almost like the Bizzaro World Beer Geek is upset that craft beer isn’t a 25 share. Seriously, half the whining is that craft isn’t bigger. That’s incredibly odd to me. On one hand you rip Macro beer, then on the other you complain craft isn’t allowed to grow larger. Very odd.

      1. It sounds like you’re trying to create brand recognition of “Bizzaro World Beer Geek.” Perhaps you should start making tee shirts.

  11. If a company cannot be candid about how and where its products are made, then one can only assume that the company has something to hide. In other words, a company that deliberately obscures the provenance of its products (especially food and drink) should be avoided at all costs, regardless of how attractive the product looks or how amazing the product tastes. End of story.

    These infographics do a nice job of showing relative market share and who owns who in the American beer market:

    https://www.msu.edu/~howardp/beer.html

    1. beanocook · ·

      Sam never advertised Miller brewed their beer. Many craft brewers “cheat” with contract facilities.

  12. We here at Battle of the Beers (battleofthebeers.blogspot.com) are 100% behind you on this. Great article, and you articulate the frustration felt by fellow craft beer lovers. (Love the homage to Grapes of Wrath, by the way: “Whenever Big Beer buys out a craft brewery, we’ll be there…” Awesome!) This has been a topic that I have ranted on more than a few times. Hey, if AB or MC wants to make craft-style beers, more power to them. They certainly have the money and equipment to produce outstanding brews if they wanted to (though, for the most part, they don’t). But then they should have the cajones to own up to it, so craft brew aficionados aren’t being duped into buying crap produced by the mega-brewers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a restaurant, asked what craft beers they have, and been told Blue Moon, Shock Top etc. as if these were true micro-brews. Great post. Keep up the fight!

  13. [...] Big Beer Label Swapping: After the public wises up to Big Beer’s ridiculous “faux-craft” beer scam, MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch get petty and send their distributors out to package stores in the [...]

  14. Smug bunch of beer drinkers up in here. You guys are all so hip and cool for fighting “The Man”. Give me a break. The truth is in the putting. Your “alehead” guru, Doc, enjoyed Batch 19 until he was sober and realized who was behind it. What a joke. I personally drink beers that I like, no matter where it comes from.

    Oh, and the analogy of a steak house being bought by McDonalds. If the steak still tastes great and they don’t change the ingredients or the meat that is in it, why wouldn’t I as the consumer want the price to drop? Economies of scale is a pretty standard business practice for a successful and growing company. Look at Sam Adam’s. They are hardly a small “craft brewer” anymore, but it hasn’t hurt their image or product quality just because they have gotten much much bigger. Whats the difference between them at their size or a company like Terrapin (much smaller than Sam Adam’s) who just happens to be part of the MillerCoors portfolio now? The only person who would care who owns the company behind a brand is someone who is superficial with probable low self-esteem and feels like they need to be seen with a certain product in their hand to be “cool” and “hip”. If you just enjoy a certain craft brand more than the MillerCoors or ABinBev brands, then power to you and enjoy what you like. But buy it cause you like it, not because of who made it. I also understand buying local craft brands because you want to keep your money in your local community. All good with that to, but it doesn’t make the big guys products suddenly in to crap, just cause they aren’t also locally owned. This article says it best, “Doc said he enjoyed the beer…until the next morning when he discovered that Batch 19 is brewed by Tenth and Blake (the “craft” division of MillerCoors). That didn’t change his enjoyment of the beer from the night before”.

    Sometimes “aleheads” remind me of junior high kids with their clothing… always gotta have the hot new brand on to fit in and feel more elite than the other kids. If I’m wearing the new hot brand of jeans and t-shirt while you wear the cheaper stuff from Old Navy that is mass produced, I’m cool and you’re a dork.

    Let’s be honest, people enter the beer brewing business to try and make a sustainable brand that can provide a sustainable business with income for the foreseeable future. Right now, the craft industry is transforming into a “flavor of the week” business where drinkers are always looking for the cool new beer with a fancy new label. Its becoming more about the style of beer than the brand. People are asking for the local Pale Ale or Amber instead of picking a brand they know and can enjoy on a regular basis for the occasion. Welcome to the world of wine, where people don’t have any brand loyalty, its all about liking a style (Pinot Noir, Riesling, Cab Sav, etc).

    1. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

      The nefarious Mr. X strikes again, before twirling his mustache and making a daring airship escape. Avanti!

  15. Anonymous · ·

    Hilarity.

    The resounding hipster approach here is painful. There is not some big-beer market buyout going on. In fact, the big beer companies often waste more in a day than some of the clowns like Dogfish produce in a year.

    Lest we remind all of the beer hipsters out there…all of the technology, all of the equipment, all of the science, and all of the quality stems from the influence of big breweries. They drive all of the innovation. I am an ASBC member, an MBAA member, and an employee of the “evil big beer company”. I constantly collaborate with my colleagues (and some close friends) that work for the Sierras, New Belgiums, North Coasts of our country. Their beers are fantastic. So are ours. It amazes me the divisiveness of all the beer hipsters.

    Browsing ratebeer.com and beerfan.com and ihateallthingsthataregood.com, I find the same ill-conceived reviews about the “light” beers out there. You would think the reviewers were drinking their own urine. Yet I have had all of your famed “Ass-Hat Celebration Porter Lambic Belgian Infusion Wee Double Brew”. It is good. It tastes different the second time you make it. No worries. It is the joy and beauty of the craft market. So what if MillerCoors or Anheuser-Busch-InBev makes a “craft” product. It probably is consistent, tasty and easy to get. Unlike the Ass-Hat, you know it is obtainable in your local market.

    What happened to celebrating beer? Are you really going to sit at home in your ironic Girl Scouts t-shirt, listen to Vampire Weekend and bitch about one of the greatest inventions of mankind? Fine. The rest of us will enjoy your products, our products, and every other brave soul who puts their heart into a batch of beer. Meanwhile, keep lamenting Elliot Smith, shop at American Apparel, and try to remember to enjoy and be positive.

    Cheers.

    Ass-Hat Fan

    1. Kid Carboy Jr. · ·

      The problem is that people like you always act as if your company’s operations don’t reek of unfair douchebaggery. Besides that fact that 99% of your beers are terrible—and we all know they are—the reason so many beer geeks hate your company (whichever it is, because really it doesn’t matter) is for its attitude and for its policies. It goes so much further beyond taste, which, honestly, should be reason enough for anyone to not be drinking your products. We don’t appreciate your lobbyists either, or the way you throw your muscle and campaign contributions behind every politician pushing a piece of legislation that hurts small craft brewers. With that said, we expect nothing less, because you clearly don’t have the momentum when it comes to “making a better product.” How are Miller Lite and Bud Light sales growths coming along this year, by the way?

      And as for that “big beer market buyout” that you say isn’t going on? You might want to check with, I don’t know, someone like the FREAKING CEO OF MILLERCOORS, because he says that yes, that’s exactly what they’re trying to do with Tenth and Blake. From his Wall Street Journal interview:

      WSJ: You recently bought a minority stake in Terrapin, a small brewery in Georgia. Besides money, what can you offer small brewers? Are you going to buy more of them?

      Mr. Long: We can help them get distribution faster. We bring an enormous amount of assets in brewing processes, technology, procurement and back office that small companies don’t have. We’re in dialogue with lots of companies. Those things have to work just right for them and have to be comfortable for everyone.
      ——————–
      So yeah. That’s exactly what is happening. But I’m glad you’re so proud of the millions of gallons of spilled beer that the big boys produce each year.

      No one who doesn’t work for your company is ever going to use the word “fantastic” in reference to an American-style light lager. Unless it’s “this tastes fantastically similar to carbonated water,” because at least that would be true.

      Ass-Hat Fan: If people with better taste weren’t the nascent and growing force in the beer market, why would you even be here?

  16. “BUT, Terrapin getting in bed with Tenth and Blake/MillerCoors allows them to play a different game than their peers. As Calagione notes, the Big Boys can undersell the craft brewers because their economies of scale are VASTLY different than those faced by the little guys. They might not mess with Terrapin’s products, but they can give Terrapin access to capital, volume, distribution, and logistics that a similarly-sized craft brewer doesn’t have. They can quickly expand Terrapin and begin flooding the market with their products like Anheuser-Busch is doing with Goose Island. Indeed, Terrapin just announced a massive expansion that will double their capacity…thanks to the equity stake sale to MillerCoors.”

    This argument is completely off-base. Having capital from an investor (whether it be AB-InBev, MillerCoors, or some rich guy down the street) is an advantage. Is it an unfair advantage? You seem to think so…but only depending on whether or not you like them. Does not scraping together pennies to brew your beer make it less worthy of drinking? If so, kiss a good number of those beers in your cellar goodbye. Many people have entered this business with a fat wallet. Many, in lieu of their own money, have found some big investors. What’s the difference? Fritz Maytag had a large inheritance…do you enjoy Anchor less because he had an “unfair” advantage? Many more have used their family fortunes to enter the industry, as well. For each one I could name, though, there are a handful of breweries that have huge outside investors supporting their company. You don’t know who they are, you don’t know what their interests are, and you don’t know what they even drink. Yet, instead, you worry yourself with those who you do know about…who have made a business decision to ultimately produce more beer…not sell out, not relinquish control of their company, not give up their beer…but to continue to make it, or make more of it, or make a larger variety.

    If you don’t want to drink something, then don’t. This whole roleplay thing as a watchdog for the industry, though, is absurd. You can complain about how macro breweries are trying to force poor-tasting (in your opinion) beer down throats, but telling others how awful their beer is and how good other beer is because it’s made by some small, independent brewer is the same kind of malarky (whether you’d like to admit it or not). You’re just projecting something else (a brewery’s small size, their self-madeness, etc.) onto the quality of the product. You’re letting some imaginary line drawn in annual production tell you what to drink…and that is a very sad thing…right there with the people who listen to commercials with women in bikinis and dogs that fetch beer.

    Faux-craft is a problem, you claim, because people don’t know it’s true identity. But if who makes the beer matters, how can you enjoy a beer from a craft brewery you don’t know anything about? Why buy that Wild Blue and hope you can retroactively feel good about your purchase? If you’re only criteria is “craft”, you’ve got it all wrong. The “craft” brewer definition isn’t what many of us have made it out to be…it doesn’t mean you even respect beer, it just means you’re small. Why not educate people about why you really like craft brewers (even the big, little guys like Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head). I truly don’t think it’s just because they’re independently owned and make less than 6 million barrels each year. I think, for most of us, it’s their approach (or maybe more accurately, our perception of that approach). Why not tell people about that, encourage them to learn about the maker of ANY beer they drink, and let them decide if it’s good. Isn’t that what an advocate of beer would do?

    1. Sometimes I feel like Andy Dufresne when I’m responding to commenters. How can you be so obtuse? Is it deliberate?

      One of the reasons I’ve essentially stopped writing for Aleheads is how weary I’ve gotten at reading arguments against points we never made. It can certainly make you lose your passion for writing when it appears that your commenters aren’t actually reading the words you write.

      I don’t care how big a brewery is. I don’t care if it has outside investors. I don’t care if it has mounds of capital to spend. I love Lagunitas. They just bought a second 250-BBL brewhouse to allow them to scale up to over a million barrels a year. I like Sierra Nevada. I like New Belgium. I like Bell’s. Their massive sizes relative to their peers doesn’t bother me at all. And if they want to go out and pull in deep-pocketed investors to allow them to grow even larger, hey…good for them.

      What I do NOT abide is a brewery getting in bed with one of two companies: AB InBev and MillerCoors. That’s it. Just those two companies. Those corporations all but destroyed the American beer industry in the 80s. They have a stranglehold on distribution. They utterly dominate the world of legislative lobbying as it pertains to the beer industry. They’ve fought the growth of craft in legislatures, in warehouses, and on package store shelves. And then, as soon as it became apparent that their efforts to stymie the growth of craft weren’t working, they started pumping out faux-craft brands and “investing” in craft breweries to get a piece of the pie.

      I don’t see how any reasonable person who considers themselves a supporter of the American beer industry could support those two companies or any brewery who gets in bed with them. They have proven themselves time and time again to be opponents to the growth of said industry. They have fought laws which would relax restrictions on smaller breweries. They’ve pushed the distributors they all but control to flood the shelves with their products at the detriment of craft beer (even if their products aren’t selling). They are huge, multi-national corporations that are wholly beholden to the shareholders…not their patrons.

      So no, it doesn’t bother me that the macros have a lot of money to throw around. Truth be told, I don’t even care that they make shitty beer (though they most certainly do). What I DO care about is their horrific business practices. I care about they way they have intentionally and repeatedly hurt an industry I support. I will never drink their products and I will never drink the products of companies that align themselves with them.

      When we write these kinds of pieces, it seems like commenters come out of the woodwork to stereotype us as “craft beer hipsters” who only drink beer from nanobreweries and disdain anything popular. It’s maddening. We love ALL independent, American breweries. From the smallest nano to the largest regional powerhouse. We truly don’t care how big or small, how rich or poor, or how popular or obscure a brewery is. We celebrate the entire American craft beer experience. What we don’t celebrate are those two, Walmart-esque, faceless corporations that have been so detrimental to this industry. We’re not hipsters…just educated consumers.

      1. I did read the words you wrote. Perhaps you should go through them again yourself. I’m well aware of the actions of macro breweries. I’m definitely not being obtuse. You DID, in fact, make a point about the efforts of these companies to stymie the growth of craft beer. Before you even got to that, though, you made many other points…those were the points I addressed. The quote you included from Sam Calagione spoke only of certain brands not facing the same challenges others face. Dogfish Head, itself, enjoys economies of scale greater than many other craft brewers, and a similar argument could be made in regards to their brewery. You followed that up with commentary on Tenth and Blake’s stake in Terrapin and how it allowed the brewery capital to expand. These are the points I referenced, and they are words you said (or typed). Don’t throw out a bunch of points and defend them with the legitimacy of one. If your goal is to show readers the importance of avoiding Big Beer, focus on the corporate practices you hate. Saying they have money that they’ll put towards part of their business doesn’t speak to that.

        What I really question, and hope to read your response about (because I do read), is why you choose to focus on what’s not craft. I haven’t called you hipsters, but perhaps the reason some do is because you approach informing readers about craft beer by shouting at the top of your lungs that something’s not craft anymore, that it’s not legit, that it sold out to the big boys. As I asked about Wild Blue in my previous comment, shouldn’t the lesson be to know exactly where your money’s going before you spend it rather than spending it on anything that’s not these “faux” brands. That kind of blind purchasing just because something looks small or independent is why “faux” brands can even “dupe” people. That’s what characterizes people who drink craft beer as those after something just because it’s obscure or different. But really, for me, for you, and for many others, it’s actually because we know the people behind the beer and we know so much about how it’s made.

        I know you don’t spend all your time bashing Big Beer…I’ve listened to podcasts, read brewery profiles, and more that dedicate time to positively highlighting what craft brewers are doing, which is why this whole approach strikes me as so abruptly different. I’m pretty certain that my comments won’t change how you feel or your approach, but I refuse to believe that this rallying cry for the “good guys” of craft against the “bad guys” of macro will be good in the long term. It’s not just you, though, it’s an easy argument to make and in championing craft beer, having a villain makes the cause that much better. It was discovering the huge variety of different beers around the world outside of the dominant brands that first piqued my interest in exploring what else beer had to offer. This isn’t part of anything many are saying in advocating craft beer. The explosion of craft brewing has made this a great time, but craft beer isn’t just about the little guy anymore. We’re already stretching that by calling the biggest of the craft brewers “little”. With the craft segment’s success, too, there are all kinds of people jumping in to make money, who open businesses that are independent and American but are a far cry from what craft beer is about. I believe it really is about knowing a brewery…local breweries are easier to know, so are generally smaller ones. Just as another commenter mentioned knowing Goose Island employees, though, you can know breweries “in bed” with Big Beer. If you know a brewery, you can truly know its ownership, you can truly know how it approaches beer (as an art or as a profitable commodity). You’re against Big Beer because of what you know. You should also be for other breweries because of what you know. I think blacklisting breweries for their involvement with Big Beer, though, isn’t encouraging others to get to know the breweries they do support. It’s just saying to many: if it’s not these guys, drink it!

        1. Thanks, A.J. For what it’s worth, I do appreciate that you’re not just “trolling” and are offering an honest, well-informed opinion.

          I think, at this point, we may be arguing two different things. At the very least, we’re cherry-picking from each others’ screeds. I readily admit that my anti-Big Beer stance is polarizing. And, truth be told, many of our posts DO sound a bit like “small beer good, big beer bad”. I feel VERY strongly about not supporting AB InBev and MillerCoors. And I get very frustrated when trolls jump on our comments section and say vague, inflammatory things like “you just don’t understand the business world like I do” or “you beer hipsters are so naive”. You obviously aren’t writing from that perspective (and I sense that you aren’t exactly a Big Beer booster).

          We rarely focus on what’s “not craft”. Actually, I think this is the first post we’ve written about the so-called “faux-craft” brands. I respect your dissenting opinion on this and I’ll let you have the last word (this reply notwithstanding).

          Though there is one last thing I want to point out. You’ve mentioned my ill-fated Wild Blue purchase twice now. As I noted in the original post, it wasn’t me! My wife (and Slouch’s wife) were responsible for that shit-show. They’ve been summarily punished for their transgressions (ie: they had to drink it).

          1. beanocook · ·

            The reason why faux craft labels work is because guys like Barley McHops taught drinkers that REAL craft drinkers, like Barley McHops only buy beer that is small and not big. And that only small beer, not big beer, is worthy.

            If you didn’t hammer this home, I don’t think the faux labels would be as successful….however the die has been cast. Thanks Barley.

      2. beanocook · ·

        You seem to think you didn’t focus on dollars and banking not beer. Admit it, you are a Bizzaro World Beer Geek, where banking relationships not beer determine good/bad beer for you. You also oddly seem to hold some anger craft isn’t MACRO and isn’t bigger or isn’t mainstream. Odd, very odd. Like everything else in life, the best products are usually more expensive and have fewer distribution outlets. Enjoy the beer man. Why do you keep trying to push for craft to be huge? Stop it. Don’t you know craft already has a 2000 to 3 advantage? Yea, nearly every brewery in America is a craft brewery. We already won. Relax and enjoy good beer.

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