Re: Those Golden Suds

We here at the Unrefined Beer Review started this journey to review and share our opinions on all of the craft beers we enjoy drinking, as well as some insights into the wonderful people who create these beers. We especially like to spotlight local breweries that create quality beers and give back to the community—because, to us and to most craft-loving and creating folks, that’s exactly what the craft beer industry is all about.

As you could probably imagine, we are livid about what happened last night.

We’re certainly not the first to comment on Budweiser’s ad last night during the Super Bowl (in fact, we might be one of the last), but it needs to be discussed as much as possible. For those who may have not seen it or heard about it, here’s a basic rundown of what you missed: The ad, titled “Brewed the Hard Way,” explains via text screens over shots of their beer being poured and created that the brand is embracing its “macro” title, and that it’s not threatened by craft brewers in today’s market. It then goes on to feature images of very stereotypical “hipster”-looking men drinking a variety of beers of different colors in glasses of different shapes and sizes, specifically calling out fans of craft beer as being more interesting in “dissecting” beer than drinking it, ending with the much-talked about lines: “The people who drink our beer are people who like to drink beer brewed the hard way” and “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale, we’ll be brewing up some golden suds.”

Sure, we could all laugh about the fact that Budweiser is clearly so threatened by the rising popularity of craft beer that they had to take out a whole ad during the Super Bowl to overcompensate for that fact—but this is about more than just their nervousness resulting in a laughable attempt at “roasting” people who enjoy craft beer. It’s a major attack on the fundamental principles and basics on which the craft beer movement was built upon. The craft beer industry was built on something most corporations know little to nothing about: ethics. I Think About Beer explains this notion more thoroughly and eloquently than I ever could, but also take this, from the mission statement of the Brewers Association (craft beer’s trade group) for example:

 At the Brewers Association we believe in:

  • Promoting and celebrating the small, independent, traditional and innovative culture of American craft brewers

  • Vigorously defending our industry and providing craft brewers with a unified voice

  • Fostering transparency within our own organization

  • Supporting and encouraging the responsible enjoyment of beer

  • Providing stewardship for 10,000 years of brewing history

  • Educating brewers and consumers about the diversity, flavor and quality of beer

  • Improving the economic health of American craft brewers

  • Working to build a collegial community of brewers, homebrewers and brewing enthusiasts

  • Promoting ethical and legal trade practices

  • Building relationships and collaborating with our industry partners

So, how do we know that Budweiser is more or less laughing in the face of all of these principles? Take the fact that—in the face of the changing dynamic of beer drinking and distribution in America—Budweiser recently acquired two notable craft breweries: 10 Barrel Brewing of Oregon and Elysian Brewing of Seattle. While acquisition of other brands (including several craft breweries) is a regular part of the AB-InBev corporate strategy, to make such a bold statement against both craft brewers and the people who enjoy craft beer is an interesting and problematic choice.

It is no secret that the market share held by craft brewers has increased significantly in the last decade. Where taps and shelves used to be dominated by brews from “The Big Three” (which even with the recent merger of Miller and Coors is now more like “The Big Two”) are now featuring a more diverse range of styles and brands. A door opened by the presence and savvy of Boston Brewing and their Samuel Addams Lager opened up the door for more flavorful beers on the American market. As the number of brewers nationwide grew, the number of beers and options inevitably grew. Without the pressure of maintaining large markets and publicly traded profits, craft brewers could experiment and build small but loyal fan bases looking for something more. The advent of the craft brewpub lead to the development of such notable craft pioneers as Dogfish Head and the literally hundreds of others. Specialty retailers and craft bars and taprooms have opened up the availability of brews from all sorts of places that would not be as readily available to adventurous beer drinkers. There is not only production but a market outside of the brewers themselves. In the acquisition of such breweries as Goose Island and Blue Point by AB-InBev and the creation of brands like Blue Moon and Shock Top by MillerCoors, there was an acknowledgment of the need to explore something other than the pale, golden lagers these corporations built their empires on.

So, the ultimate question still stands: In the face of slipping market shares and the acquisition of notable craft breweries, why would Budweiser and AB-InBev create an ad to alienate the craft brewers and drinkers by reducing them to over intellectualized, “hipster” glass sniffers while asserting their own stance as a company that does things “the hard way”? Well, the answer seems to be in the question itself—one could easily argue that the ad is as much an attack on intellectualism as it is on craft beer.

Upon a second viewing of the ad, it becomes clear that the goal is to assert that while Budweiser is not making a product that “beer snobs” might appreciate, it doesn’t really matter, because those kind of beer drinkers care too much about thinking about their beer. They would much rather have the hardworking, American beer drinkers who drink just to get drunk—people who don’t have the time to think about what they’re drinking because they’re too busy working hard. It’s not only an insult to craft brewers and drinkers, but also an assumption and assertion that their market is the “unwashed masses,” the hard laborers who are too dumb to realize they’re being insulted by the ad that’s geared towards them. Makes you really wonder what that says about the Belgium-based AB-InBev’s view of American laborers and beer drinkers.

That also brings up the next question: what does this ad say about the craft breweries that AB-InBev has acquired? The most interesting and would-be-hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-so-upsetting revelation that came from this ad is that Elysian, their newest acquisition, actually brews a Pumpkin Peach Ale. It seems that AB-InBev doesn’t seem to care one bit about what Elysian brews—hell, they might not even know. Was the pumpkin peach ale dig an ignorant oversight on behalf of a well-paid ad firm? An actual ‘fuck what you do we own you now‘ from Bud to Elysian? An assumption that if Elysian is dumb enough to pair up with them then they too are a target for ridicule? Which is worse? A brewery like Elysian, who has been known in the past for putting corporate beer on blast, and who has had to recently defend their decision AND the big conglomerate’s choices as of late, being directly insulted on such a major, national level is a pretty big deal. Is it their own fault for dancing with the devil and getting into bed with the exact corporate mindset they rallied against?

Well, there’s one person who has some pretty strong thoughts on the subject:

We’re interested to see where this goes. And, as always, we encourage everyone to keep drinking craft and supporting local—because corporate beer DOES still suck, and the support is especially needed now.

We call ourselves the “Unrefined Beer Review,” because neither one of us are professional beer reviewers—we just really like to imbibe in good-tasting stuff. But, you know what, we enjoy “dissecting” it, too. We don’t consider ourselves “beer snobs” in that we don’t judge people based on what they choose to drink (at least not out-loud), and understand that not all people have embraced craft brews yet because they don’t yet know what’s out there, or maybe just can’t afford some of them. We also have chosen to go for the “no beer snobs” tagline as a humorous nod to the outrageous idea that all people who enjoy craft over crap are snobs. But if standing for ethics means assuming the role of a snob, then so be it—we’ll gladly rethink our phrasing in favor of supporting the hard (yes, hard) workers who create quality beers for everyone to enjoy.

–Jamie and John

Next Time on the Unrefined Beer Review: It’s round 3 for Big Brew NY, and this time it’s VIP style! It’s sure to be a CASK-travaganza. Stay tuned!

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