If you follow beer at all you know there is a major divide between macro breweries (Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoor’s) and the craft beer industry which has seen an increasing growth of the beer market share. Though macro breweries still control roughly 90% of the beer market, the double digit growth of the craft beer scene over the past few years could not go unnoticed by big beer business. So when macro breweries begin to create “craft” brewery subsidiaries of a different name, label, and identity in order to tap into this new market you could see why many in the craft beer scene may be a little upset.
Essentially, what is happening is that macro breweries are beginning to either set up new brands like Blue Moon and Batch 19, brewed by the ‘craft’ division of Coors, Tenth and Blake; or buy out existing craft breweries like Anheuser-Busch did with Goose Island in order to disguise their infiltration into the craft beer market.
So what is wrong with this? There are a few problems. The first is about transparency and misdirection. One of the biggest creeds of the craft beer scene is to “Buy Locally” which means to support your local craft brewery. Someone may buy one of these imitation craft companies like Blue Moon, Shock Top, Goose Island, and Batch 19 and think that they are supporting a craft brewery but in fact are supporting big beer business. Many of these labels make no indication of the actual owner. In fact the Blue Moon bottle claims that it is brewed by the “Blue Moon Brewing Company” which is operated by Tenth and Blake, which is owned by Coors. These macro companies are intentionally trying to separate themselves and disguise their products to fit into the craft beer scene which for the most part is against big beer business.
Now in Goose Island’s case, which was and still is a quality craft brewery, they were simply bought out by Anheuser-Busch who kept the brewery opened and allowed them to continue making their beer. It is still the same great beer but now with corporate funding and backing. Goose Island is no longer faced with many of the pitfalls craft breweries have to face and are now given a huge advantage like being able to undersell their competition.
In his interview with the Better Beer Authority, Sam Calagione noted:
“I get very concerned when seeing a Blue Moon or a Shock Top growing because they don’t have the same challenges as an independent family-owned business. They don’t have the same access to market challenges or the same access to ingredient challenges. So when they go into a retailer and charge $30 less for a keg but tell the retailer that they can charge the same as Dogfish Head or Lagunitas or whatever, that is not a karmic playing field. I want to see large brewers not lose market share but I want to see the small breweries own [the market share of] what defines a craft brewery.”
Though Tenth and Blake is owned by Coors they operate independently and have their own marketing and own sales organization. But by being owned by Coors they still include many corporate perks such as legal, communications, and human resources from Coors. Tenth and Blake’s claims that they are a “beer drinker’s beer company” confirming the claim that they are targeting craft beer drinkers that have supported the craft beer movement. The thing is they are doing a pretty good job and their beer receives great reviews and is growing in popularity.
Coors announced last month that due to the success of Batch 19 that they plan to expand it greatly in 2012. CEO of Molson Coors, Peter Swinburn said that Batch 19 is “creating a buzz among 25-35 year-old drinkers” and that “its limited availability in select high-profile locations is creating a feeling of authenticity and nostalgia for this brand.”
He also referred to Batch 19 growlers as a “throwback to the late 1800′s, are used in the on-premise to drive velocity and sharing amongst consumers.”
These characteristics that lead to Batch 19′s success are similar to ones utilized by many craft breweries. It seems that macro breweries has found a way to tap into a market originally reserved for local craft breweries. That being said Blue Moon, Shock Top, Batch 19, and Goose Island are all still really good beers and many may say that is all that matters.
So does it matter who is brewing your beer? For many the answer is yes. Josh from Drinking Made Easy says that ”[Batch 19] is a decent beer, I just wish I could give my money to a local craft brewery.” Some are calling these macro craft brands deceptive marketing tactics to compete with craft beer, others believe that the end product is what truly matters.
You could even consider the existence of Tenth and Blake as a sign of success for the Craft Beer Movement. In essence, the Craft Beer Movement is about the creation of “Better Beer”. Due to the craft movement’s influence, that is exactly what big beer companies are trying to make. But whether it simply a marketing ploy or a legitimate attempt to make better beer is for the beer drinker to decide.