Recently there has been a kerfuffle about big brewers “bamboozling” drinkers by dressing their products up to look like “craft beer.” Not that this is anything new. Marco has been clawing at the craft market for the last several years thought buying out breweries including Goose Island and Creemore Springs. The latest marketing leak, however, shows their intentions a little more clearly and has gotten some writers up in arms about misleading ad campaigns for AB-Inbev’s Shock Top brand.
The bamboozling is disheartening, but it’s also important to not completely demonize “Labatt” (owned by AB-Inbev) as Ben the Beer Blogger does (in tone at least). If consumers are aiming to support local or craft made products, then accidently buying one of these stealth bands (Keith’s, Rickard’s, Blue Moon, Shock Top, etc. or even India/Jockey/Black Horse/Blue Star/Dominion etc.) surely will be upsetting for them. I suspect if you care about the local/small part of the craft beer movement, you’ve already figured out a local brewery or two to support and if local matters to a consumer they are more than likely already somewhat educated about the products they buy.
I’m more concerned at their targeting Shock Top at those who think the whole craft thing is, as one lady walking by Volo the other day said, “Hipster beer.” Placing Shock Top as a “friendly” alternative is actually a pretty smart move for them. Craft beer advocates seem often to conflate the local/small/craft process with the beer product. These beers have all the taste and none of the pretention, right? And they are so much more available! But that’s where I find it gets troublesome. These companies have, historically, been very bad for a diversity of beer and breweries. While they have masterful quality control and techniques, they have tended to eliminate marginal brands in favour of more homogeneity.
That’s not, in itself, a bad thing and, perhaps, this time large multinational, publically traded corporations will produce a diversity of quality products. I’m skeptical. They can make excellent beer and, I believe, taste should be primary to provenance (the actual product over the mythified process), but it is disconcerting trusting these breweries to embrace diversity when they have often sought to eradicate it. Macro is not an inherent evil and it only feeds the perception of “craft” pretention if we act as if it is always to be eschewed, but certainly for me there are trust issues, particularly when they further malign any trust they may have gotten from providing a quality product through using branding trickery to mask the process.
These so-called “crafty” brands are like the McDonald’s healthy value menu. McDonald’s was, once upon a time, losing market share to more health conscious alternatives, so they introduced a menu filled with reasonable analogs of healthy food. Mostly salads with chicken; light and inoffensive. A win for healthy food! But I’m pretty sure in the phrase “healthy value menu” the word “menu” is, to McDonald’s, more important to the word “healthy.” Having an option in market is more important than the original (and, granted, often romanticised) movements that promoted and created that market to being with. If healthy food (somehow) stops being a concern, what is the fate of the “healthy value menu?” I suspect no better than the fate of these brands like Shock Top, also light and inoffensive, invented to appeal to the “craft” beer market niche. It is here, where valuing the product (good beer) in isolation from the process (gigantic multinational) becomes worrying for me.
I’m not so much enraged by this as I am interested. For now, I’ll keep trying everything and buying regularly from those who I trust will make beers I enjoy not just for now, but for as long as they can.