Last week, a little press release flitted across the wire. You may not have noticed it, so I’ll post it here for your inspection. It was in regards to Blue Moon’s latest release, their Blue Moon Grand Cru. It’s timed to come out in the same month as the only actual blue moon (the second full moon of a month) that has fallen on New Year’s Even in decades. We won’t see another one for 20 years.
Blue Moon: Craft Brewer
At this point, you may be looking up at the title of this post saying, “What’s this supposed to be about again?” Fear not, gentle reader.

Here’s a quote from the press release that caught my eye:

“The craft brewer is celebrating this rare lunar occurrence with an equally rare brew: the limited-edition Blue Moon Grand Cru.”

Yeah. You read that right. Craft brewer.

You may also notice that their tagline – which I hadn’t noticed before – is, “Artfully Crafted.” I’m not sure if that’s new, but after seeing them reference themselves as a craft brewery, it certainly caught my eye and this mention of “craft brewer” in their press release really set off warning bells for me.

Now, just in case you don’t know, let me put this out on the line: Blue Moon is brewed by Coors. In fact, if you look down at the bottom of the press release, you’ll notice that the contact person that’s listed is from MillerCoors. They also list Keith Villa as the Blue Moon Brewmaster – which is not inaccurate – he did come up with the beer. Keith is a brewmaster at Coors.

Coors is not a craft brewer.

The Brewers Association has a definition of craft beer that’s centered around taxation. They list a craft brewer as being Small (under 2 million barrels per year – which is a taxation benchmark), Independent (tricky definition basically saying you’re not owned by somebody else), and Traditional (50+% of the brewery’s volume must be all-malt beers).

On their site, they have a list of “concepts related to craft beer and craft brewers” which I have a LOT of issues with (example: “The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.” That is in no way traditional.), but this is not the post for that.

This is also not the post where we talk about how this definition actually cuts a lot of good, popular, small American brewers (Ommegang, Goose Island, etc.) out of the craft beer category, even though their products fit the bill in an exemplary manner.

This post will address this:

If you’re a consumer and you’re in the grocery store or a bar, and you want to buy a “craft beer”, how do you know what to get? You can’t just look for the CAMRA seal. If you haven’t taken the time to educate yourself, how do you know that Blue Moon is not a craft beer?
CAMRA
You can say all you want that, “Well, maybe they SHOULD educate themselves.” but it’s not reasonable, it’s a real issue. If you’re a craft brewer, your ubiquitous competition is Blue Moon (and Sam Adams) because: 1) It’s a decent beer and 2) It’s everywhere.

The fact is, if breweries – or the Brewers Association, really – does not come up with a simple and consistent way of showing the average consumer what products on the shelf count as craft beer, they risk losing the term and the definition to the multi-billion dollar marketing machine employed by MillerCoors and InBev.

“Artfully crafted” is a first step, and if it’s successful at reinforcing Blue Moon as a craft beer, then don’t be surprised if you end up hearing about Bud Light Golden Wheat being “craft brewed in small batches” or some such nonsense. I’m not a big fan of slippery slope arguments, but it seems to me like it isn’t long before you have BMC rolling out brands that are successfully marketed as craft beers taking significant portions of sales away from small craft brewers.

If the brewing industry doesn’t take the time, in the next year or so, to aggressively define “craft beer” in a way that is easily recognizable to the consumer, I think they risk losing the term and BMC will have won another battle against it’s minuscule brethren.

I look forward to a point at which I can walk into a store and look for the label, “Real American Craft Beer” so that I know exactly what I’m getting. I hope that day is coming soon and that we don’t have to invent and defend another definition, first.

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Categories: industry, marketing, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 08 Dec 2009 @ 05 25 PM

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