Guess What the Best-Selling Craft-Style Beer Is?

I was reading an article on time.com about how smart and successful Sam Calagione is (of course) when I came across an interesting fact. Guess what the best selling “craft-style” beer is?  You’ll never guess, not in a bl…uh…never mind.  

Yes, it’s Blue Moon.  Now before you go yelling that Blue Moon isn’t a craft beer, which technically it isn’t, take a step back and realize that it doesn’t really matter.  When the vast majority of beer drinkers see Blue Moon, they think craft beer. So as far as public perception goes, it’s a craft offering.  And it sells like hotcakes.

Blue Moon sold $40 million worth of beer through the first half of this year according to Symphony IRI, and that’s just in supermarkets.  Add in liquor stores, bars and bodega’s, and that number goes way up.

This got me to thinking – is the fact that Blue Moon enjoys so much success as a “craft” beer a good thing or a bad thing?
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You could say it’s bad, because those dollars could be going to real craft brewers who are risking their butts to make great beer.  And you wouldn’t be wrong.
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But you could also say it’s a great thing, because Blue Moon is a high-throughput turnstile into the world of better beer.  It’s the first step many folks take away from Industrial Lagers and towards drinking craft beer.
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I think Blue Moon does more good than harm.  The way I see it, folks who otherwise might not get into craft beer try a Blue Moon, like it, and start thinking about drinking other non-lagers.  One thing leads to another, and a beer geek is born!  I know this doesn’t happen to everyone who tries a Blue Moon, but I see it as a step in the right direction.
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Of course that’s just my opinion.  What do you think?  Is Blue Moon good for craft beer, or is it a soul-sucking vortex of all that is good and holy?  As always, let us know below!
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Categories: Beer

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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53 Comments on “Guess What the Best-Selling Craft-Style Beer Is?”

  1. Rachel
    December 21, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Being a young female, I have some friends who won’t hardly drink beer and if so they’ll have a High Life or God forbid, a Bud Light Lime. It is embarrassing. I tend to lean on the side of at least it’s a step in the right direction. It is easier to get a person to step out of their comfort zone and try a Blue Moon than a lot of other, better beers. Plus it tastes nice. Just saying.
    P.S. I like the snow.

    • December 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

      Fist off, thanks for liking the snow! I think it’s festive and I don’t have to shovel it, which is a big bonus.

      And I agree that Blue Moon is an easy transition to make into beer that’s a little more interesting.

      Hey, we’re two for two!

  2. Don
    December 21, 2010 at 1:33 pm #

    I don’t know if it is good or bad, but I can say with confidence that it was definitely the busiest booth at GABF. Seems there are craft beer drinkers that like it too.

    • December 21, 2010 at 1:50 pm #

      It was like they were giving away cars or something. I guess it shows that a portion of the traffic at GABF are noobs. They probably are drawn to the brands they are most comfortable with.

  3. Matt
    December 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    I think it’s good for craft beer. Coors even hides that it’s brewed by them so the fact people are giving it a shot thinking it is brewed by a small craft brewer only serves to open their mind that small breweries can make beer they find acceptable, too. I think it’s shady they say it’s brewed by the “Blue Moon Brewing Company,” but it helps our cause.

    • December 21, 2010 at 1:52 pm #

      Yeah, putting “Coors” on the label would kill the whole mystique they’re trying to build with the brand. I think those commercials they run during “Brew Masters” wouldn’t be quite as effective if they pulled back to reveal Pete Coors was holding the colored pencil.

  4. December 21, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    I think it’s more helpful than harmful for sure. I also know several people who think they’re “reaching” when drinking Blue Moon and have no desire to venture further. I’m sure it serves a nice gateway role for many though.

    • December 21, 2010 at 1:53 pm #

      Yeah, my guess is that most people stick with Blue Moon because it’s decent and they feel like it’s “exotic” enough. Pity, really.

  5. December 21, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    Jimbo!

    Yet another fine question! Overall, I’d say this is a good thing. It’s been well documented that while overall beer sales are down in the US, craft beer sales are way way up. The people that are fueling this growth (i.e. the Beer Geeks Extraordinaire!) are well aware of where Blue Moon fits on the craft beer scale. If a Bud/Coors/Miller drinker’s first exposure to something other than watered down lager just happens to be Blue Moon, and if this new beer style gets them to try other beer styles (IPA’s Stouts, Porters, etc.), then I don’t see where there’s any downside to Blue Moon’s success.

    G-LO

    • December 21, 2010 at 1:54 pm #

      Yo, G-LO!

      I just hope the independent brewers are growing faster than BMC’s “craft” offerings. Otherwise, they’ll be squeezed out.

  6. Alex
    December 21, 2010 at 2:21 pm #

    Shady marketing by Coors doesn’t change the fact that Blue Moon uses cheap ingredients or that by buying it you are supporting a company with horrible business practices. There are plenty of good Belgian White beers out there from real craft brewers. I share Jim’s concern that these “fake” craft beers have the potential to squeeze out their “real” counterparts.

    Once, when I was out with some coworkers, one of them was drinking Blue Moon and I offered (in a non-beerdouchicus way) to buy her an Avery White Rascal for her next round instead. And it worked! She really enjoyed it and White Rascal is now her beer of choice. The key is to be subtle and non-judgmental. I think I said something to the effect of: “if you like Blue Moon, I bet you’ll like this; it’s from a small brewery in Boulder . . . ” Small victory, but I’ll take it.

    • December 21, 2010 at 2:39 pm #

      That’s a nuance I didn’t think of, and it’s a good one.

      If you encounter someone drinking a Blue Moon, you have a potential convert on your hands. Act quickly (and in a non-Beerdouchicus way) to turn them on to something similar, but made with “real” ingredients.

      Good call Alex!

    • Matt
      December 21, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

      It was such a revelation you had to say it twice. Shout it from the rooftops!

      • Matt
        December 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

        …and then you deleted your duplicate, leaving my comment alone and without context.

      • December 21, 2010 at 3:48 pm #

        Oops! I replied once by email (WordPress let’s you do that) but it didn’t post (WordPress does that, too). I deleted one of ’em so now it looks like I only replied once. And that you’re crazy! 😉

  7. December 21, 2010 at 2:53 pm #

    I’m a little bit biased against it. It seems to be the beer of choice when hipsters want to upgrade their beer selection in the establishments I frequent. The orange slice is mandatory (half the time, I think they’re really ordering the orange slice and are happy that it comes with a beer attached to it). And a lot of the folks I know who drink it never move beyond it.

    On the other hand, I remember when I was in college and it was exactly as you say, Jim- a gateway beer of sorts. Or one of many.

    • December 21, 2010 at 3:10 pm #

      Ha ha. I left off my whole “Hipster with a BMW who lives in his mom’s basement” tirade I usually go on when the subject of Blue Moon or Stella comes up, but I know the guy you’re talking about (might have to add Posuerificus to the Evolution of the Beer Geek).

      I’m wondering if these guys will start to drink Dogfish Head now that it has a TV show that Blue Moon advertises on.

      • Matt
        December 21, 2010 at 3:46 pm #

        The answer is yes. They are now privy to the entire underground scene of hard to find beer (Bitches Brew) and nothing arouses a hipster like stuff people haven’t heard of or can’t get their hands on.

        • December 21, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

          True, plus Miles Davis is a hipster magnet, so I imagine those who “think different” (but all the same) will seek and swill.

  8. December 21, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    Ok, I guess it does more good than harm. Trying not be puritanical about my beer or whiskey, each offering has it’s place among the masses. While I view BM as more mainstream, I personally would take that over the Buds, Coors, Millers if given a choice. Same thing with bourbon, Makers is very pedestrian in my book but may be the go-to for someone else. To each his own…..no?

    • December 21, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

      Yes, as we say, “drink what you like.”

      But in the case of Blue Moon and Maker’s, I’d like to add “and then try something better”

      • December 22, 2010 at 10:47 am #

        Exactly….as in, Backwoods Bastard and Parkers Heritage 2010.

  9. December 21, 2010 at 4:30 pm #

    Without reading what everyone else thinks, here is my 2 cents…I’m not sure folks make the jump from Blue Moon to let’s say a Ruination DIPA or Bourbon County Stout. If anything, they’re drinking maybe a few Sam Adams but mostly sticking to their bland macro shit. So, folks drinking Blue Moon does craft beer no favors, IMHO.

    • December 21, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

      I agree it’s a leap to DIPA’s and RIS’s, but I’d be happy if it opened the way to a nice hefe or even something like Victory Lager or Prima Pils.

      • December 21, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

        But that’s not what happens. We’re talking about consumers who base their choices on comfort, branding, etc. They’re not picking up a BM and considering the notes or citrus and bubblegum (or whatever a BM tastes like). They’re angry that the bartender forgot their orange slice and considering following the BM up with a Bud Light because hops make their tummies hurt.

        What would be good for craft beer is if these mofo’s drank CRAFT BEER. It’s good for craft beer when consumers choose challenging beers that taste like something. Marketing and macro brand loyalty won’t translate into more craft beer drinkers. That’s all I’m saying.

        BTW, thanks for the idea. I haven’t posted in a while. It might be time to blog something.

        • December 21, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

          Glad I could get you fired up. 🙂

          And I don’t disagree with the root of what you’re saying, except that I’ve heard tales of beer nerds (especially female ones) coming into the fold through Blue Moon. It’s certainly not 40% (or even 4%) of the people who drink it, but it’s something.

          Anyway, happy blogging!! And don’t be too rough on me.

      • Alex
        December 21, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

        Abbreviating Blue Moon as “BM” seems very appropriate. 🙂

        • December 21, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

          Like everyone else, I take my BM’s with an orange slice in ’em!

      • Alex
        December 21, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

        Ha ha! Quoting BOC’s post above: “They’re not picking up a BM and considering the notes or citrus and bubblegum (or whatever a BM tastes like).”

        Nothing like poop jokes to lighten the mood.

        • December 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

          Guy at Bennigans: “I’ll have a Blue Moon, please.”
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          Waiter: “Will that be the 12 or 20 ounce, sir?”
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          Guy (Shifting in booth): “I’ll take a big BM!”
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          Waiter (uncomfortably): “Do you still want a beer, sir?”
          .

          Yes, I went that far to type “big BM.” You’re right, this is fun!

      • Matt
        December 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

        It’s usually the other way around. A yeasty, bottle conditioned craft beer typically leads to a BM.

      • Alex
        December 21, 2010 at 7:57 pm #

        @Matt: Nice. I see what you did there!

  10. Evan
    December 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm #

    Industrial lagers. Nice to know I’ve made a lasting impression 🙂

    • December 21, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

      It was originally read “Industrial Lagers (thanks again, Evan!)” but it screwed up the flow and I figured you, me and Don would be the only ones who knew what the hell I’m talking about.

      But make no mistake – you own that one!

      • Matt
        December 21, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

        I don’t know that he has gone to lengths to protect his pseudo Internet trademark. It is at risk of becoming public domain. 🙂

  11. Manny
    December 21, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    Blue Moon was my gateway beer to the “real world” of craft beers. I buy a six of it every once in a while, but spend most of my money on such treats as Goose Island 312, Left Hand Milk Stout, and that wonder of wonders, Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot. It might have happened eventually, but Blue Moon is the reason I started shopping in that aisle of the package store.

    • December 21, 2010 at 9:17 pm #

      I guess you’re the posterchild for this post, Manny.

  12. December 22, 2010 at 10:10 am #

    Had two of them the other night (sans orange) with some friends @ Fridays. Sure it wasn’t a craft-beer zen experience where I wet my pants, (as I usually do) but it went well with the meal and was the best beer choice by far. Was happy to drink it too.

    I think its a good thing for the most part. (Gateway beer, etc…) And its really not a bad beer from a technical sense.

    I’m also waiting for the Blue Moonoclasts to do a blind tasting of Blue Moon and say 2 real-er craft beers and see which they think is best. So far, nobody’s been willing to do it in public.

    Business practices aside, what’s wrong with people drinking what they enjoy? I think its good.

    • December 22, 2010 at 10:24 am #

      What’s wrong with it? Well, the fact that the only slot on a Friday’s menu that could be occupied by a craft beer is taken up with a macro faux craft beer is a problem. Taking up shelf space at stores from craft brewers is a problem. Blue Moon and their ilk are an attempt to push craft brewers further toward the margins. Granted, most of these beers don’t do as well as Blue Moon, but the fact that Blue Moon occupies the same chunk of the market only weakens craft beer’s hold. Of course, this is all moot as you did say “business practices aside,” but the point had to be made.

      That said, I don’t think BM is that great. Sure I used to drink it before pints of Guiness, but those days are long gone now that I know about beer with flavor.

      • Alex
        December 22, 2010 at 11:32 am #

        I totally agree with your points yet . . . the American consumer now has more choices than ever before when it comes to beer. US craft brewers have made amazing progress in the last few years, and there is still a long way to go, but so far I don’t see anything but an upward trend in the availability of great beer. Last week’s TGI Friday’s/New Belgium post indicated that small steps are being taken to (maybe) get craft beer into Friday’s, which is encouraging. Now if they could only do something about the food . . .

      • December 22, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

        I think Blue Moon is creating awareness amongst casual beer drinkers (not professionals like us!) that there is more out there than Bud and Miller. Sure it’s a Coors product, but it demonstrates to places like Fridays that people will drink (and pay a premium for) beer that’s a little more unique.

        And as Alex wisely points out above, Fridays is testing a partnership with New Belgium in one of it’s Colorado locations. Sure, it’s not Avery or Great Divide, but it show that, like their customers, these chains are starting to realize there’s more than BMC macro beers out there. This will be huge for craft brewers if it becomes a trend.

        And I also agree with Scott that people should drink what they like, even if we don’t like what they drink.

      • December 23, 2010 at 7:47 am #

        You should come write for me.

        I drank the BM back in college when it was cheap and one of the better things we got at the local. I’m sure it seemed “exotic” at the time and was a little bit different than the other stuff out there. And GIRLS would almost drink it. Then I traveled to a state that actually allowed in good beer and picked up a few Stone and Avery brews and never looked back.

        These days, I’d probably hurl if I tried to drink one again. Sure, the craft movement is exploding in new places, but getting people to try mediocre macros in mediocre chain restaurants ain’t gonna help out. I live in a decent beer community with plenty of snobs. Around the corner in my physical community is a music venue that we all love to hate for various reasons, including the awful beer selection. Recently, the badass craft beer and wine store I work in down the street got their own tap at the bar and can make selections for what goes on each week or so. The problem is the bar keeps rejecting the selections because they’re too strong or something. They want to go with safe and familiar because that’s what consumers want.

        You can only get as good as what the restaurants offer and unless the establishment really cares about beer, they’re just gonna cater to the lowest common denominator.

      • Alex
        December 23, 2010 at 9:48 am #

        I think that’s a good point, Daniel. People don’t go to Friday’s to try anything new or different. The menu at Friday’s is the same in NYC as it is in Omaha. Introducing good craft beer to the menu doesn’t really fit the overall culture of TGI Friday’s, which includes a predictable menu and atmosphere pretending to be something unique and original. In this sense, BM is the perfect beer for Friday’s and its customers.

        I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the restaurants I like the most tend to serve great craft beer. They usually value originality and locally-sourced ingredients. Craft beer fits with that culture better than a large national chain restaurant.

        • December 23, 2010 at 9:59 am #

          I agree to some extent, but anything that gets folks to the craft beer aisle is a good thing in my book. Even if they serve something simple like New Belgium’s Fat Tire or Victory Prima Pils, at least it’s letting macro drinkers discover and get comfortable with a genuine craft offering.

          These might be dumbed down for beer geeks, but they can be s lightbulb going off for someone who has the potential to join our ranks.

      • Brad
        March 31, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

        The problem with postitioning Blue Moon as the “bad guy” against craft beer, is there are obvious limitations to craft brewing. If you have to produce <2 million barrels a year, you CAN"T be in a Fridays or on a menu at any national chain. You just can't make enough product!

        Actually, that's half the point of craft beer. It's unique and different and exploratory meaning it will never have a huge place in the market. Mega brewing is the bitter that makes craft beer even sweeter.

        • Don
          March 31, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

          No question Brad, Blue Moon is a decent gateway brew to get people thinking about other beer styles and companies. That said it isn’t “Craft” at all. It is just another Miller/Coors product. And don’t be so certain that there aren’t “craft” beert that could supply nationally. I bet Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium could do it.

  13. December 22, 2010 at 10:39 am #

    Jim, I think you hit the nail on the head here. While Blue Moon is not a beer that I drink anymore, there certainly was a time when I thought of this, and similar beers (yuengling for example) as “craft” beers. Even Budweiser, with their American Ale, while not a craft beer, opens the door for beer drinkers to venture beyond the glorified rice water that too often get’s passed off as beer. Besides that, it’s not horribly offensive, which is more than I can say for some craft brewed wheat beers (see 21st Ammendment’s Hell or Watermellon Wheat)!

    • December 22, 2010 at 11:02 am #

      I wish there were numbers on this. I just don’t see people making the leap from BM or Bud American Ale to Stone or Dogfish Head. For one, there’s the price. For two, craft beer has flavor. The best gateway to craft beer is to drink craft beer.

      • December 22, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

        I don’t have numbers specific to this, but “craft beer” consumption is growing at a rate of 13%, which is handily outpacing macro brewed stuff. To be “craft” you have to produce less than 2 million barrels a year, which means Blue Moon and others are NOT part of that 13%.

        It’s fuzzy math, but it means that a growing number of people are choosing authentic craft beers, and those people have to be coming from somewhere.

        And like just about everyone here, I doubt many young beer drinkers are starting with Left Hand or Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada. I think it’s more like Bud–> Blue Moon / Stella —> Craft/ Belgian.

        Again, speculation on my part, but that’s how the situation strikes me.

  14. Brad
    March 31, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    It was my first “craft” beer at Pazzo’s pub on the University of Ky campus in Lexington. After sharing a pitcher of that, I decided it would be a good idea to try some of the other 130 beers they had in bottles and on draft which ended up exposing me to everything from Old Engine Oil to La Fin du Monde.

    I once asked the bartender at this place what the most popular beer was, and he told me Bud Light – which totally shocked me given the selection. If more people would give ANYTHING other than their standard a try it will open up doors.

    Verdit: Blue Moon is a gateway drug, in a good way!

  15. March 31, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    I was just discussing Dogfish Head as a gateway craft beer earlier today.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Gateway Beers (and Bands) « Building International Coalitions Through Beer and Pavement - December 22, 2010

    […] of those beer and whiskey loving brothers[1] posed the following question: Is Blue Moon good for craft beer, or is it a soul-sucking vortex of all that is good and […]

  2. Goose Stepping Into the Future « Beer & Whiskey Brothers Blog - March 28, 2011

    […] Last week’s legal dust up between Bell’s and Northern Brewer showed us that many craft beer fans have little tolerance for corporate shenanigans. We’ll see if Bud can navigate these tricky waters and keep the beer geeks on board, but it probably doesn’t matter.  The casual beer drinker won’t know (or care) where Goose Island comes from, and there’s many more of them than there are of us (see Blue Moon). […]

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