Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

December 2, 2006

Beer Diary:

Know Thy Beer

Thinking of ordering up a pint of that new craft brew your local pub just got in? Know before you buy—you may just be getting a repackaged macro.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
So I was in a bar (shocker!) recently with a few acquaintances (yes, Eddie Glick has a couple floating around here and there), and the only even remotely drinkable beer that this sub-average joint offered was a Blue Moon. The aforementioned acquaintances were happily drinking the macro swill the place offered and, so as not to appear rude, I ordered a Blue Moon.

Now, me being a Beer Dork, I knew before I ordered that Blue Moon is brewed and distributed by Coors, or, to be more accurate, Molson Coors Brewing Co., which Coors became after merging with Canada’s largest brewer. The problem is the vast majority of beer drinkers don’t know that. They see “Belgian White” on the bottle or tap and think it’s either from Belgium or it’s a craft brew. A few of your dimmer bar patrons may see it served with an orange slice jammed onto the lip of the pint glass and think, “Ooh! An orange slice! How … exotic!” and decide to order one simply because of that.

(Eddie’s policy on fruit in your beer: if the brewer wants fruit in the beer, the brewer should brew that beer with fruit. So, hold the lemon wedge, please.)

Coors has been pulling this little stunt for about ten years. They do everything they can think of to pretend that Blue Moon has nothing to do with giant, faceless brewing. They shun big-budget advertising, let distributors who specialize in selling craft brews and small brands talk it up to retailers, and specifically aim at markets that will accept it while not asking too many questions (i.e., people who like to think of themselves as “trendy” and try to perpetuate this by hanging out in “trendy” bars and clubs).

And this strategy has worked quite well for Coors. Estimates for sales of Blue Moon in the month of November 2006 are up to 500,000 barrels—far, far more than all but the very largest craft breweries in the country.

I shouldn’t sound so combative about this, though, since Blue Moon is, to me, a perfectly drinkable beer, especially during those dusty Midwest summers. I would much rather drink something with a little more verve and vigor, but it’ll do in a pinch when no other viable choices are available. I think we’ve all been stuck in that situation where we let our acquaintances make the beer-drinking decisions for us, with sometimes disastrous results. Talk about hating yourself the next morning …

All this would be fine and good, but as the craft brewing industry begins to gain ground on the macro brewers, the other big boys look at Coors’ successful strategy and start to hatch nefarious plans of their own—such as forming little satellite companies like Crooked Creek Brewing Co. and Green Valley Brewing Co. and attaching beers like Stone Mill Pale Ale and Wild Hop Lager to them, respectively. Surprise! Both are owned and operated by Anheuser-Busch. Or they’ll invest heavily in an existing craft brewer, like Portland, Oregon’s Widmer or Seattle’s Redhook, both of which are partially owned by Anheuser-Busch. To even further distance their name from a craft brewer’s image, Anheuser-Busch invested in Goose Island by proxy: Widmer put up the money to grab a 40 percent stake in the Chicago-based brewery. SAB Miller is a bit more blunt in their methods. They just buy craft brewing companies outright, like Leinenkugel’s or Portland’s Henry Weinhard’s.

I’ve already gone off on my rant about how big brewing can damage the rebirth of America’s beer heritage and the importance of drinking local, so I won’t repeat it here. What I will say is these companies are tricking us into buying their product. Even if they were putting out quality beers—and I have not had a chance to try either Stone Mill Pale Ale or Wild Hop Lager—the fact that they refuse to attach their names to it tells you flat out that they don’t really care about the quality and taste of the beer. Here’s a hint what they do care about: it looks like an S with a vertical bar driven through it. They see this craft beer thing as a flash in the pan, like the horrid “malternatives” from a couple years back and wine coolers before that. Once the fad fades, they say to themselves, we’ll ditch those “craft” brews and return our focus to the stuff that resembles water more than beer. Ka-ching.

Are craft brewers interested in money? Yes, they are. But the way they make their money isn’t through advertising an image for those who drink their beer or tricking customers into buying their product. They make their money by offering quality beer. If their product is crap, their company will very likely go down the toilet. Because Beer Dorks care about quality first and everything else a distant second. So if those big breweries want to make a good beer, MAKE A GOOD BEER! Go ahead, slap your own name on it, say “Proudly brewed by Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” If it’s good—and no local brew of equal quality or better is readily available—I’ll drink it.

And, for the record, good old Anheuser-Busch gave this tactic a shot by selling their Beach Bum Blonde Ale. I tried it with an open mind. Seriously, Eddie Glick can do that once in a while. And guess what? It tasted like semi-fermented toilet water. These companies are so driven by marketing and brand recognition that they can’t bring themselves to produce anything other than homogeneous swill and still put their names on it. It would make the masses—gleep!—think! Katy bar the door.

Therefore, before ordering up that intriguing but heretofore unknown brew, know thy beer. Stay informed by sticking with the Beer Dorks and reading our reviews and articles. Or poke around at Rate Beer or Beer Advocate. Find out where your beer is coming from before you put it in your body. Because an informed customer is a happy customer. And getting tricked into drinking ditch water from St. Louis can really ruin one’s day.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

Beer Dorks News

Want to know how healthy the craft beer industry is? As always, look to Portland. Craft pioneer Bridgeport announces sudden closure, adding to a growing list of PDX casualties.
Did Anheuser-Busch Chicago offer their shit beer to Cody Parkey before his missed field goal? Because that may explain why he "accidentally" biffed it.
Chicago now has the most breweries of any city in the country. Other things Chicago has the most of: murders, mobsters, and Ditkas.
Trying to spin it positive, BA releases end of year graphic. Only 5% growth in the craft sector when nearly 1000 new breweries opened? That's a collapse waiting to happen.
R.I.P. Tallgrass... another casualty as the regional/national craft beer market continues to get squeezed.
Wait... Constellation Brands cut all of the Ballast Point and Funky Buddha sales staff? They merged it with their Corona/Modelo staff?? We're SHOCKED!!!
Pizza Beer founder crying about failure of company, blames everyone else. Reminder, the beer tasted like vomit. Try having better ideas or making better products so you're not a failure.
It's Bud Light so doesn't really matter, but we expect this beer to be sitting around for awhile.
Indiana brewery to open with controversial beer names to "get the conversation going". Translation: taking advantage of serious issues for free publicity.
Hundreds of amazing beers in Wisconsin and the Cubs took back the one everyone drinks just because it exists and people have heard of it. How fitting...