I think I’m late to the recent craft beer hullaballoo that followed the Brewer’s Association’s bitchy, little missive about the Big Beer Boogeyman trying to swoop on craft beer’s game with brews like Blue Moon and Shock Top. There has been enough whining, though. So, this might not be popular, but the Curmudgeon must speak.
I drink beer. Period. And I’ve said it before: So as long as your beer is tasty, I’ll drink it…well, as long as it wasn’t made from orphan tears, or something messed-up like that. But I’m willing to make an exception if the orphans were already crying anyway.
For me, it started on December 12th, when SABMiller executive chairman Graham Mackay asserted that the basis for craft beer success is the desire for more variation and interest and “it’s also local, anti-marketing, anti-global, anti-big, and more focused on experience and knowing that about where beer is from.” This elicited immediate mockery from the Big Beer haters about how Big Beer just doesn’t get it, and how it’s about quality and taste.
Then, the next day, the Brewer’s Association fired-off a press release reiterating their standard for what constitutes craft beer, lamenting Big Beer’s sinister foray into the craft beer market, and claiming that Big Beer should be required to clearly label their masquerading beers as being made by the Big Beer Boogeyman (and, thus, not true “craft beers”). Hmmm. So, apparently it’s not all about taste. Otherwise, why does this matter?
Now, thisiswhyimdrunk makes a compelling case for the distinction between the Brewer’s Association lamentations and Graham Mackay’s claims of anti-big sentiment. However, it’s hard to deny the general contempt for Big Beer that courses through the veins of the majority of beer nerds. The accusations run the gamut: Their beers all taste like crap (not true); they are unrelenting and sometimes nefarious in their efforts to gain market share (probably true); they like to eat kittens (totally true).
But we operate in a capitalist system. Making money and gaining market share is what you’re supposed to do. It’s what makes the system function well, subject to smart regulation and enforcement, of course.
In fact, the capitalist system is like a zoo with lions, tigers, polar bears, and cute little animals like koalas and penguins. When a polar bear escapes and fulfills his lifelong fantasy of eating a penguin, or when the lions and tigers get out and eat the koalas and some zoo patrons, do you blame the lions and tigers and bears? No. Sure you might think the carnivores are dicks for eating cute animals and people, but that’s what they do (and partly what makes a zoo cool). You should be blaming the f-ing zookeepers.
And what do you think the purpose of the Brewer’s Association cockamamie definition of craft is (which actually seems simultaneously over-inclusive (Sam Adams Light) and under-inclusive (August Schell Brewing))? It’s about inventing a term to solidify a market niche and to gain and protect market share to the exclusion of others. Gasp!
And the label idea is silly. It’s not even worthy of the zoo’s suggestion box. These offending Big Beer brews are a completely different product line from their other beers and are geared to an entirely different market. Of course they’re going to label and market them differently. Are you mad that a Lexus doesn’t come with “TOYOTA” emblazoned across the back? The few people who actually care about this will know or easily find out.
It all boils down to this: I’ve had some good brews made by Big Beer and many terrible beers from so-called craft breweries. To me, it’s all about gettin’ the yummy in my tummy and what’s best and available at the time, not about what constitutes craft beer or who gets to call it that. So, maybe the Big Beer Boogeyman realized that he needs to get in on selling tasty beer. Wah. Deal with it. Just drink beer.
Update: Go read John Cochran’s thoughts (From Terrapin Beer) here. He masterfully drives home the point: This is all so silly. He also lists some of the goofier results from the Brewer’s Association line-in-the-sand.