Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The New Gateway Drug: Budweiser?

Nate over at Nebraska Beer asks some difficult questions about Big Beer infiltrating the craft beer market. I was just going to leave a comment on my thoughts to his questions but as I thought about it my thoughts might make for some good reading (if you want to read the ramblings of some crazy guy).
At least we and the general public know this beer is made by the big guys but what about the offerings from A-B, Miller and Coors that don't tell you the affiliation. Beers like A-Bs Wild Hop, BareKnuckle Stout and Coors' Blue Moon and Miller's Leinkugels. Is this misrepresentation fair? Should their be some acknowledgment on the bottle of the producer of the product. With pricing on the rise for the small guy and the difficult distribution system, companies like A-B can uniquely position themselves on the shelves of major retailers all over the country under the guise of craft beer where the average joe, and even the somewhat new craft beer enthusiast, would not recognize the difference. Is this taken advantage of the system or just good business? Does it matter if their beer is good? The reverse of it is, could this back fire on the big guys? Could this be a gateway "drug" to bigger and better things and open palates all around the country?

Instead of answering these questions one by one I think I’ll just write my treatise on the topic. Our goal as beer aficionados/geeks/drunks should be quality beer worth its price. I shouldn’t care who makes it as long as it tastes good for the money I paid for it. Yet I somehow do care. I don’t want to drink anything developed by marketing folks in St. Louis. So as for the Wild Hop and BareKnuckle Stout, I’m afraid I’m out, I’m probably not going to go out of my way to try it. But that’s my personal decision, I don’t knock AB for trying to enter a new market with a new product line. If it turns out to be good (Wes told me he liked one of the new Budweiser beers) then that is my loss. My distinction on this lies in whether the product line was purchased (i.e. Leinenkugels) or developed internally (i.e. BareKnuckle Stout). To me it seems this makes a world of difference. I have no qualms about buying a Leinie or Goose Island beer (partially owned by AB), but I would never buy anything branded Budweiser. So is it deceptive for Budweiser to market these beers as their own thing, sure it is, but that’s their only shot. I think in the end the competition will make the craft beer segment even more robust. While Nate worries about Budweiser shrinking the number of craft beers, I welcome the new craft beer drinkers Budweiser can bring with them. It’s not a zero sum game for craft beers, 90% of the population (prolly more) couldn’t tell you the difference between an IPA and a hefeweizen. Anybody who can improve beer knowledge should be welcomed by us beer geeks. Each and every one of knows people who will ONLY drink Budweiser. Now we have an in, we can give them a Wild Hop Ale (Lager? I don’t know and I’m NOT looking it up) and say this is a Budweiser you might like it. Before we never had that opportunity. So I welcome Budweiser into the fray with legitimate offerings.

One time on this site I worried about that Budweiser Chelada crap was going to take shelf space away from other craft beers. I was probably wrong about that, I think Budweiser probably cannibalized their own, Miller’s or Coors’ shelf space. Now with Big Beer coming out with their own craft beers are they going to take shelf space from Sierra Nevada, Boulevard, Breckenridge or Sam Adams? I think that is a legitimate worry initially. But, once an American Lager drinking tastes a Miller Pale Ale do you think they’re going to go back to that substandard style? No, they’re going to seek out the local pale ale, in our case Boulevard, or one they’ve heard is good, Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada. We’ll prolly have to coin a phrase like “Once you go Jew, no Christian will do” but relating to beer “Once you go craft, you won’t be some loser a-hole with no taste” (I may have to work on the saying). Have you ever heard someone say they didn’t love Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Hell no you haven’t! And you won’t! So Nate answered his question by saying these Big Beer offerings are going to be gateway drugs into where the good beer is. Craft beer is going to cannibalize the 3 rows of Budweiser 12 packs in your local liquor stores. Maybe we can get that down to 1 row with the excess space given to the wonderful rainbow of colors a microbrew cooler shows.

The more people we can get to drink good beer, the better off we’ll be. Quality begets quality. This has been evident in every segment of the liquor industry, wine, vodka, whiskey, now bourbon. Soon it will be even more evident in beer as well. Soon all the working class bars that have previously had only Bud, Busch and Bud Light on tap will be shuttered and all the old customers will be at the bar down the street discussing that new porter they had last night or maybe something a little less gay sounding.

Read Nate's further thoughts on the subject.


  1. For me drinking Boulevard supports a community identity. I am no beer expert by a long shot, but I do like to "try" to keep my money and business in the community.

    Businesses like Boulevard help a metro area have some kind of unique identfier in the age of franchise restaurants and international big box retail chains.

    Years ago I had a boss that always complained about franchise businesses. His claim was that you could take anyone, blindfold them, and put them in the middle of any American city and they would not have any inkling of where they were. Starbucks is everywhere, Wal-Mart is everywhere, but Boulevard is not.

    When I travel I always drink the local brews before any other. Even if Brooklyn Lager isn’t that great, I get to drink it because I am IN Brooklyn.

  2. I was under the impression that Leinenkugal moving under Miller was as much about Leinie exceeding production capacity as Miller wanting another acquisition. I don't see anything for the craft brewers and consumers to get alarmed about.

    I find it interesting that Miller and Coors are joining forces to compete against AB on the "big beer" front.

  3. Nice piece, Bull.

    I have recently considered putting together a guide to distinguish "faux" craft beers, i.e., Coors' Blue Moon, from real craft beers that have big beer investors, i.e., Goose Island.

    This would help those many former "Buddies", "Millertants" and "Coorsizans" who are in the later stages of deprogramming. After having escaped from the likes of Reverend Busch and Chairman Joseph, they will likely never ever want to give their money to support deceptive brands from the Unholy Alliance of ABMillerCoors.

  4. Thanks for the link up and the answer. Your thoughts definitely match up with mine, whether they are buying up craft beer companies or making their own they are conceding defeat in a way. I doubt very much we will ever see the extinction of the light lager but I do believe that if small town Nebraska bars have craft beer like Boulevard and Goose Island on tap we are on the right path.

    Again, thanks for the link and the follow up piece. Now that I know people read it I am going to have to watch my grammar and spelling. Ha!