Brad Tuttle of Time magazine has a warning for beer drinkers: What you see on the label might not be true.
One example is deception as to a beer’s provenance. Tuttle mentions beers that are advertised as “Vermont ales” when in fact they’re brewed elsewhere. One brewer of “Vermont ale” is located in Berkeley, California; another is based in upstate New York.
“American” is a time-honored way to make products more appealing, and Budweiser exploited this tactic to the hilt by renaming Budweiser “America” last year. Problem is, the brand is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, a conglomerate headquartered in Belgium.
Some beers try to pass themselves off as “imported”. Even though they bear foreign breweries’ names, they’re brewed in the U.S. A couple of years ago, Anheuser-Busch got slapped with a lawsuit over domestically-brewed Beck’s beer. A-B didn’t admit fault, but agreed to pay Beck’s drinkers up to $50 in the settlement; and the suit apparently made it more careful about advertising claims.
“Craft” is another possible source of deception. Here the legalities get trickier: the Brewers Association has laid down criteria for what breweries qualify as “craft”, but the BA’s definition isn’t universally accepted in the industry. That said, the mega-brewers behind Blue Moon (launched as an experiment by Coors Brewing) and Goose Island (acquired by A-B) haven’t gone out of their way to disclose those brands’ current ownership.
The mega-merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller will give the combined business a 30-percent share of the world’s beer market and control of eight of America’s top ten brands. And, according to Time magazine correspondent Brad Tuttle, it will pose a serious threat to the growing craft beer sector. The big brewers’ campaign against craft is being waged on several fronts.
Big Beer’s first line of attack on craft brewers is “crafty” beers such as Blue Moon and Shock Top. Critics call these products “crafty” because many, if not most, consumers are unaware that they’re made by big breweries.
The big breweries are also buying craft breweries whose products have a following, such as Goose Island, Elysian, 10 Barrel, Golden Road, and Blue Point. Even though there are 4,000 breweries in the U.S., Tuttle points out that strategic acquisitions of key craft breweries make it much more difficult for other craft brewers to succeed.
Advertising is another weapon in the mega-brewers’ arsenal. The craft-bashing Budweiser commercial that ran during the last Super Bowl, poking fun at hipsters who fuss over pumpkin peach ale, is the most notorious.
The big brands still dominate distribution, and the three-tier system isn’t going away anytime soon. In some states, such as Colorado, A-B InBev has bought distributors outright—a practice that may lead to antitrust investigation by the Justice Department.
Finally, consolidation helps offset the big brands’ sagging sales growth by cutting costs. Advertising is one such cost. A-B InBev and SABMiller spend billions on sports sponsorships to promote their brands. Now that the two companies are no longer competing, they’ll have more negotiating power with the sports industry and will demand lower fees for their “official sponsorship” status.
Recently, Time magazine correspondent Tim Morrison went to Manhattan’s Pony Bar and sat down with beer sommelier Samuel Merritt, who recommended five summertime craft beers with food to pair with each.
Spoiler alert: the five recommended beers are Flying Dog Woody Creek White, Stoudt’s Heifer-in-Wheat, Ithaca Ground Break Saison, Magic Hat Wacko, and Southampton Double White.