A Caveat Emptor Re “Craft Beer”

Prior to that scourge of time commonly known as Prohibition, when, from 1920 to 1933 the Eighteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution did away with alcohol in these United States, there were hundreds if not thousands of small-scale and regional breweries that checkered the nation’s landscape.

14761884426_c43edfd790_oBack then brewing and beer was a local business, because nationwide or even multi-state distribution required things like refrigerated freight cars that made importing beer rather cost-prohibitive. So when you visited Pittsburgh you sampled the local beer, and then again you had another brand in Racine, Wisconsin, and wherever else thirsty folks happened to be.

With Prohibition, all those little breweries folded up their tents, never to return. For the most part, in the decades following the repeal of Prohibition, only the large-scale brewers like Anheuser-Busch and Miller or Coors took up the brewing of beer again.

14578203838_2055d52ec4_oAnd these megalithic companies sent lobbyists to Washington to get legislation favorable to their megapoly in the form of restrictive laws relating to the distribution of beer in interstate commerce. Essentially, a brewer could no longer brew and distribute, so each major company spun off its own major distributorship, and would charge highly unfavorable rates to the little guys to get their products onto the big trucks, keeping a corner on the market.

It’s only been the last two decades that craft brewing has seen a real resurgence in America, and if you ask most craft brewers, they will tell you that the major hurdle for expansion is still….. distribution.

Adding insult to injury, the big breweries aren’t merely satisfied with keeping their 80% market share, or whatever. They’d also like to reap some of the craft brewing money, using less than excellent methods to do it. Take a look here for a really interesting infographic on all the “regional” or “craft” beers nationwide that are actually owned and produced by the major brewers like InBev (Anheuser-Busch) or MillerCoors.

A couple of prime examples of terrifically bad “craft” beer that nonetheless enjoys a tremendous market share based upon public misperception: Shock Top and Blue Moon.

Shock Top is made in Fort Collins, Colorado by Anheuser-Busch InBev and Blue Moon is brewed by MillerCoors in Golden, Colorado. But you’d never know it because the big companies don’t want you to know it. The labelling, branding, the corporate subsidiary name, the failure to mention anywhere on the label who actually owns these companies. These beers only pretend to be craft beer.

The Quartermaster, Fr. A and "Ms. S" enjoying actual craft beer in San Francisco

The Quartermaster, Fr. A and “Ms. S” enjoying actual craft beer in San Francisco

For myself, I don’t appreciate the artifice. I don’t go to a little wood-fire pizza place that is operated by Pizza Hut. I don’t want Kentucky Fried pretending to be your great aunt’s soul food. And I don’t want a company that spends more money on Clydesdale horses and Super Bowl commercials than the entire budget of Russian River or Firestone Walker telling me what constitutes craft beer.

Craft beer belongs to us. It is consumable democracy. When a brewer combines top-quality ingredients, a carefully planned recipe, and the purest water that can be sourced with his love and respect for the process and style, that is craft beer. Craft beer is not a label, a fancy name, or anything to do with a corporate subsidiary shielding the actual multi-billion-dollar owner. It is about an honest approach to one of the oldest and most honored foods ever made.

Seriously. Someone has filed a class-action lawsuit over Blue Moon. Now that someone has called them on it, I hope that the big brewers stop pretending.

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