Craft Beer: A Magnet for False Advertising

by Billy Broas

False Advertising
When something is hot, everybody wants to ride its coattails.

Craft beer was up 15% in 2012, while the beer industry as a whole was up only 1%. Craft beer is hot, and marketers want a piece of it.

There are two recent examples of the term “craft beer” being abused.

The first was at Yankee Stadium this year when the baseball season began. See the picture below.

Craft Beer at Yankee Stadium

That’s right – a “Craft Beer Destination” with all MillerCoors products. As you can imagine, there was a huge backlash. They eventually changed the name to “Beer Mixology Destination”. It’s a horrible name but it’s an improvement…I guess.

Another example came via a tweet from the Colorado Brewer’s Guild:
Safeway Craft Beer

Stella Artois, Redhook, Heineken, and Corona. Not one of them a craft beer. Nice try, Safeway!

This starts to get into the whole craft vs. crafty thing which has been beaten to death. I don’t like the BA’s definition of craft beer, but this blatant false advertising is pathetic. Big brewers and beer vendors are trying to capitalize on craft beer’s success to mislead consumers and justify higher prices.

In my fantasy world there would be no “craft beer”. It would all be beer, and all beer would be good. In the meantime, however, these perpetrators should be called out for their deceptions. It was good to see the backlash at Yankee Stadium and hopefully the embarrassment taught others a lesson.

These are just two examples but I’ve seen many more. I’m sure you have too. Let me know in the comments a time that you saw the term “craft beer” being abused.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sheppy April 25, 2013 at 1:54 pm

I like your fantasy land. There is no “craft” beer. There is just beer.

I struggle with the definition of Craft Beer. I’m just not sure I agree with the BA’s assertion that the definition is as cut and dry / black and white as their definition makes it. Quite frankly, it seems to me that “craft” should be more about the beer and less about brewery size or who ultimately funds the operation.

The fact that Goose Island or Redhook just all of sudden lost their “craft” status just because a bigger company bought them out seems wrong. One day they were “craft” the next they technically were not when in reality NOTHING CHANGED.

But then, you get to such blatant misuse of the term as your examples. This is unconscionable, but part of me wants to say that anyone who is stupid enough to buy Corona because they see an add that calls it “craft” deserves what they get. At the same time, I hope whoever put that add together was fired.

To me, the term “craft” beer is sort of like porn. I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see (taste) it.

I really want to go to that place with free beer and topless bartenders. Where is that?

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Billy Broas April 25, 2013 at 6:54 pm

The porn analogy is spot on.

I agree 100% that it shouldn’t be based on brewery size, or even the ingredients via the use of adjuncts. Just take a look at Schell: http://beerpulse.com/2012/12/august-schell-brewing-to-ba-in-response-to-craft-vs-crafty-shame-on-you/. It’s wrong to exclude them. The line is getting blurred and before long there won’t be a line at all. At least I hope there won’t be.

I’m working on finding that bar. Will let you know when I do.

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FedoraDave April 28, 2013 at 2:18 pm

A couple of thoughts…

First, it seems to me that the BA is in the unique position of being able to create their own definitions. It’s a “craft” beer because they say it is, therefore, they can’t be wrong.

Second, the assertion that “nothing has changed” in the case of Goose Island and others who were bought out by megas isn’t true, IMO. Perhaps nothing has changed (yet) in their ingredients or processes, but something has, indeed, changed. They now have to toe someone else’s line; someone who may not be invested in a similar philosophy. Large corporate philosophy doesn’t always jibe with that of the artisan or craftsman.

I believe craft beer to be more of a philosophy and an approach than a size or name issue. AG-InBev and MillerCoors have demonstrated their philosophy is mass production and profit, while it peddles the most generic product it can to as many people as possible.

If an independent businessman who crafted furniture by hand was bought out by Ikea, but they continued to use his name, where would you draw the line? At what point would his “craft” be compromised?

There’s no hard and fast answer, I realize, but this is truly a case of bandwagon-jumping and buyer beware. A fascinating phenomenon among the beer-drinkers of America.

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Sheppy April 30, 2013 at 7:57 am

Hey, Hat man … what’s up?

I am a big fan of the BA, but basically what they are saying is that “if you are part of our little club, you can call your beer ‘craft’. If not, you can’t.” I guess that is fine as long as people realize what they are and that they have their own agenda to support their membership.

In the specific case of Goose Island, I don’t know how anyone could say their Bourbon County wood-aged series or their “Vintage” sours or any of their other one-offs is anything other than artisan or craft. If Goose Island truly had to toe the corporate mass-production, profit-at-all-cost line, those beers would immediately disappear. Who knows … they might be phased out, but based on everything I have heard and read, that is not in the plans.

Here in Colorado, we have AC Golden, which is an arm of Coors. They win award after award for their sour beers. Again, if their only goal was profitability, they would completely stay away from those types of beers. We also have a little brewery inside Coors field, again owned by Coors. They make their beers just like any other small brewery in the state, and again, they would not exist if they were beholden to a mass-production profit-center mandate from the big-bad “evil” corporation.

I still say the beer itself matters more than who ultimately writes the paychecks.

Of course, one thing the BA said in their whole “Craft vs. Crafty” campaign is that these big corporations should show transparency in their product line. I 100% agree with that. Beer geeks like you and me and Billy know who owns these product lines and can make our purchasing decisions based on whatever information we choose to make important for us. Unfortunately, most people don’t know and in too many cases it is difficult to find.

And of course, I will repeat that whoever decided to label Corona a “craft” beer in that Safeway add should be fired.

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FedoraDave May 2, 2013 at 3:46 am

You make good points, Shep, and I am compelled to agree with you that the beer is the most important thing, ultimately. But I also contend that transparency is the main issue, and that’s my biggest gripe with these acquisitions. AB-InBev and MillerCoors are deliberately flying under the radar because they know that transparency might hurt their bottom line. Again, profit trumps product, to an extent.

They’re in a unique position in that their loyal consumers won’t try the higher end stuff, and the craft aficionados won’t patronize their name, hence the cloaking. Mayhap they’ve been hoist on their own petard?

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Billy Broas May 2, 2013 at 10:32 am

What’s clear is that consumers have different values. Some only care about the beer, some want local-only, some want small-only, some want independent-only, some want socially responsible, some want no adjuncts, and some want a combination of these things. The BA’s definition takes a handful of the attributes most generally accepted as “craft”, puts them into a package, and slaps a label on them that let’s consumers know what they’re buying is “safe”. The problem is that the lines are blurring and it won’t be possible to satisfy all consumers with a single label. Just look at the disagreement here over Goose Island. What are they?

As the Borg say, resistance is futile.

That’s why I don’t think the term craft beer is sustainable, at least with its current definition. There is no term that will satisfy all consumers, which is why consumers need to take it upon themselves to do the research. If you only want to buy beer from an independently owned brewery, put in the effort to look up ones that meet that criteria. People who care where their food comes from do this all the time and it goes beyond looking for an Organic label. Of course there should be accountability on the part of the brewery to make this information as accessible and transparent (there’s that word again) as possible.

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FedoraDave May 2, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Excellent points, and well-taken, BB. The lines have already blurred, and I agree that it’s up to the consumer, ultimately, to determine what beer s/he will buy and why. I also agree most strongly with your final statement about accountability of the brewer. It’s one thing for Ikea to serve horse-meat balls if they tell people they’re horse-meat balls. Then the consumer can make an intelligent choice. But to not say anything and let the consumer find out about it later — well, that’s as odious, to me, as mixing non-Kosher food with Kosher food just because you can peddle more of it to unsuspecting people. How much is the consumer supposed to ask prior to making a purchase?

I also wonder if the line between “craft” and “crafty” is going to become so blurred that we’re going to see whatever new version of Budweiser they create is going to be presented at Craft Beer Expositions. Does Bud’s new Amber Lager qualify, simply because it’s aping a style that some small, independent breweries are doing well with?

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Nate Webster May 16, 2013 at 8:38 am

Well at least they changed the sign at Yankee Stadium. Safeway…huge fail.

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