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?
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.

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

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 13 Apr 2009 @ 10:50 AM 

I had a flash of insight.

Beer Wars. You know Beer Wars. If you don’t, just watch a brewery twitter feed for a few hours. It’s coming: This Thursday, in fact. You should think about going to see it.

I haven’t seen any projections about how many people are going to see this thing, but let’s make some rough estimates: Beer Wars plays in 440 theaters nationwide. Let’s assume that each of these theaters seats 400 people – which is a pretty big theater, but this is a one-night-only event, right? Hopefully, it’s being treated well. So that’s a potential viewing audience of ~176,000. Now, you have to assume that the bulk of the viewing audience will be craft beer enthusiasts, let’s assume 75%.

Now, what my insight had to do with is Blue Moon and its place in the world of craft beer. (What “craft beer” means has been covered amply on other blogs.) To sum up: Does craft beer have to do with how beer is made or who distributes it? I’ll tackle this, myself, some other day when I’m feeling extra glib and like I have something to add that hasn’t been said over and over again.

Beer Wars will rightly point out that Blue Moon is made by Coors, which in and of itself isn’t that much of a problem. By some people’s definitions (and, after a lot of thought, the one that I’m personally inclined to go with), it is as much a craft beer as any local offering you might find. My personal opinion is that Blue Moon does more to introduce people to good beer than a lot of smaller, more specialized, brews – it’s a gateway beer, like Sam Adams Boston Lager. You can take the step there from drinking Miller Lite, learn that you like craft beer, and then you’ve got one more consumer drinking a local beer. However! Is Coors a craft brewery? Well, they make Blue Moon. They make a lot of other small offerings. One could argue that, yes, in fact, they are. I might not like their mass market offerings, but you know what? They make good beer … sometimes. One should respect good beer. I can be bitter about their marketing budget and still respect good beer.

So let’s head back to the numbers for a second. Out of the 75% of craft beer enthusiasts who are seeing Beer Wars, let’s assume that 1/3 of them don’t know that Blue Moon is made by Coors. That seems like a high number, but it makes the math easier. So, put all that together, and let’s pretend that half of the audience (25% who aren’t craft beer enthusiasts, plus 1/3 of the 75% that are = 50%) that’s watching Beer Wars on Thursday night find out, in the midst of this event, that Blue Moon is a beer made by a megabrewery. That’s 88,000 people. Now, let’s pretend that those 88,000 people all go home and go to a party on Friday night and then tell 5 people each that they shouldn’t drink Blue Moon because it’s made by Coors. That’s 440,000 people. If THEY all tell 5 people each, that’s over 2.2 million.

Small facts run like wild fire, especially on angry opinions. Just do a Twitter search for #amazonfail for a really mind-boggling (and still truly enraging) example.

So, with all this in mind, Beer Wars has a chance, and I think a fairly significant one, of seriously effecting the sales figures of Blue Moon.

Will that hurt Coors? Given that Blue Moon is probably only a small portion of their gross income, I’d say that it’s unlikely. Equally as unlikely is that all of those people will continue to not buy Blue Moon, simply because it actually is one of the only good beer options in some bars and, hey, when your choices are between Blue Moon and Coors Light? I’d order a Blue Moon, too. If anything, I bet it will seriously make them reconsider how they’re spending the big in-flux of cash that Blue Moon is apparently supposed to be seeing soon.

It’d still be REALLY interesting to look at the balance sheets over at Coors in a month to see how much of a gut punch they feel from this. The closer we get, the more interested I am to see the fall out from Beer Wars and I wish, more than ever, that I could make my local screening.

The Craft Brewers Conference next week should be a blast on this topic alone.

Tags Tags: , , , , , ,
Categories: industry, media
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Apr 2009 @ 10 50 AM

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