Clearly, I’m a beer fan. I drink it (often), I review it, I brew it, and Rhea even cooks with it. I know I get a little pretentious in my beer reviews, but hey, that’s just my writing style I guess. So, with all that in mind, I still don’t consider myself a beer snob. More of a beer enthusiast.
The beer I tend to favor is generally lumped into the “craft beer” category. Craft beer, as defined by the Brewers’ Association, is a small and independent brewery. In my opinion, small and independent breweries tend to spend more time perfect the recipes of their beers to maximize flavor and enjoy-ability, or push the envelope of what a typical beer might contain, whereas “Macro-breweries” tend to aim for affordability over flavor.
In the weird circle of beer fans, there’s a lot of debate over craft beer versus “crafty beer”. WTF is crafty beer, you ask? A fine question! People generally call beers from large macro-breweries like MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev that are sold under a different label and break away from the styles of “regular” and “lite”, “crafty beer”. Examples include MillerCoors’ Blue Moon beers and AB InBev’s Shock Top. At first glance, these beers are their own companies. It looks like Blue Moon is the name of a brewery that makes a hefeweisen. Only upon detailed inspection of the label to you see that it’s brewed by MillerCoors.
Some craft beer fans think that this is misleading and that it’s hurting the craft beer industry. In fact, the Brewers’ Associate released a statement on this:
However, many non-standard, non-light "crafty" beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it's from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it's made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.
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. 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.
Basically, they want it to be obvious that Blue Moon is a MillerCoors beer. I absolutely understand their point. They go on to urge beer drinkers to educate themselves and learn who brews the beer they’re buying.
I agree that Blue Moon is so-so, and lots of people do think it’s a micro-brew, especially since for some weird-ass reason their bartender threw an orange slice in it. I also agree that it is better to support the small, independent breweries, especially local ones. But, economics aside, does it even matter?
I’m talking about just drinking beer, something that isn’t supposed to be pretentious or laborious. It’s supposed to be relaxing and a way to enjoy some time with your friends and family. So, in terms of just grabbing a beer out of the fridge, popping the top, and drinking, does it really matter?
I mentioned I consider myself a beer enthusiast but not a beer snob. I say this because while I’ll make an effort to run down to Avenue Pub for Zwanze Day or a St. Arnold release, if I’m at a family event or a party with friends and there’s a suitcase’s worth of Miller Lite in the ice chest I’m not going to turn up my nose and grab a bottle of water. I’ll drink it, just like how I’ll drink High Life at the House of Blues because they overcharge for their beer and that’s the most affordable.
I liken drinking Blue Moon or Crispin Cider or Shock Top or Leinenkugel to that. If we’ll drink very obviously cheap, watered-down, over-exposed, macro-brews in a pinch, what’s the problem with drinking one that has a “fake” crafty label on it?
Tenth and Blake Beer Company (the specialties and imports division of MillerCoors) CEO and President Tom Cardella just issued a statement in response to the Brewers’ Association’s statement.
Anyone who visits Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin will understand the blood, sweat and tears that went into building that brewery, and they've continued brewing amazing beers for 145 years. And anyone who spends time chatting with Blue Moon Brewing Company founder and brew master Keith Villa will understand the passion and creativity that has gone into developing his Artfully Crafted beers for 17 years. To question the quality of these beers due to their size or success is doing a disservice to the entrepreneurs who created them, and to beer drinkers who love them. Most beer drinkers don't get hung up on industry definitions, which often change. They just enjoy drinking great beer. Whether people call them craft or some other title is fine with us. We'll just keep brewing great beer.
And you know, he’s got a great point. While these so-called “crafty beers” are owned and operated by big, multi-national corporations, many of them began as small craft brewers that the big companies bought years later. There’s still a brewmaster and other brewers at those breweries making beer, testing recipes, tasting batches and dumping them and starting over just to make sure it’s good.
He makes another good point — most people don’t care and just drink what they like. The group of beer enthusiasts or aficionados is relatively small when compared to the total number of regular drinkers of beer. While we find these things to be important, there is and always will be a market for the people that honestly do not care. The same issue plagues the tech industry. There’s a group of hardcore techies that will argue that giant cellphone screens are awful and totally useless and there’s no need for it, or they get furious when a phone has only a 900MHz processor instead of 1GHz processor. Sure, you guys care, but the majority of people don’t and never will. They want a phone that works for their use-case.
The same exists with beer. While I’m not a fan of Blue Moon, I know people are and that’s fine. Drink what you like and like what you drink. That’s all that matters.
As these craft brewers grow in size, will people lose their loyalty? Boston Beer Company’s Sam Adams label is HUGE. It’s a household name and Dave Chapelle even parodied their commercials on his show. But, technically speaking based on their independent status and the number of barrels of beer they produce annually, they are a craft beer company. Yet many craft brew fans dismiss Sam Adams as too big or mainstream.
Will we reach the point that the only beer that’s “cool” to drink is homebrew?
Beer has been around for centuries. It’s brewed 100s of different ways by thousands and thousands of different people in probably every country on the planet. People will have different tastes.
I wonder how many people complaining about “crafty” beer have bought a local craft beer six pack at Wal-Mart? Or maybe grabbed a burger from McDonald’s or a two-for-$20 meal at Applebee’s? You can’t always support the small, independent and/or local guy. Sometimes, because of budget constraints, location, or time, you have to hand some dollars over to the big guys.
Of course, places like Applebee’s are very obviously a national chain, right? It’s not like they hang tchotchkes specific to the region they’re in on the walls to give the feeling of a local pub or call it “Neighborhood Bar & Grille” to give you the illusion that they aren’t some major company, right?
The fact is, especially in a time where “Eat local” is a big deal, large companies have been doing this for years, and have been doing it with beer almost as many years as other industries. Like Nike buying little shoe manufacturer Airwalk, or big ol’ Gateway Computers buying small, niche computer company Alienware and leaving the original branding on the product.
Maybe just relax, sit back, and have a beer?