Brewers Association Calls Out Counterfeit Craft Beers


Things just got real.  As a beer geek with a little bit of a voice on the Internet, I’ve tried to educate people about the difference between real craft beers and the lookalikes that Big Beer pump out in an attempt to capitalize on the craft beer craze.

Most recently, it was a review of Budweiser Project 12 for the Today Show, and I plan to continue to beat this drum until people understand that Blue Moon and Shocktop and Landshark Lager aren’t craft beers – they’re counterfeits.

Apparently, the Brewers Association feels the same way, as they’ve just released a statement calling for more clarity as to who’s behind that brand name on your beer’s label.  Here’s the whole statement:

An American craft brewer is defined as small and independent. Their annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

The community of small and independent craft brewers has grown as beer enthusiasts embrace new, diverse beers brewed by their neighbors and friends who are invested in their local communities. Beer drinkers are voting with their palates and dollars to support these entrepreneurs and their small and independent businesses.

In 2011, small and independent craft brewers saw their industry grow 13 percent by volume; in the first half of 2012, volume grew by an additional 12 percent. Meanwhile, the overall beer industry was down 1.3 percent by volume and domestic non-craft was down 5 million barrels in 2011.

Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.

While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today’s small and independent brewers, it’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft.

However, many non-standard, non-light “crafty” beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it’s from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it’s made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.

The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.

And for those passionate beer lovers out there, we ask that you take the time to familiarize yourself with who is brewing the beer you are drinking. Is it a product of a small and independent brewer? Or is it from a crafty large brewer, seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of small and independent craft brewers?

I just had a nice conversation with Julia Herz from the Brewers Association, and I asked her why the BA is coming out with this statement now, especially because they’ve tiptoed around the topic whenever I’ve tried to get them on the record about it in the past.  She simply said that talk about Big Beer offering up imposter brews has been growing increasingly louder in the craft beer community, and the BA felt it was time to state their point of view on the topic.

Whatever the motivation (perhaps the imposters are selling too well), I’m happy to see the Brewers Association say enough is enough.  Up until now, I couldn’t get Sam Calagione or Charlie Papazian or anyone else to admit that there’s an  “us against them” mentality when it comes to craft brewers and the Big Boys, so I find this statement from the Brewers Association to be very, very refreshing indeed.

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25 Comments on “Brewers Association Calls Out Counterfeit Craft Beers”

  1. King
    December 13, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    And the results of these comments will be…nothing.

    • December 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

      I dunno – it’s good to see them publicly taking a side in this. In the past, their criticism (at least officially) has been pretty muted. This is a step in the right direction, and gives the media an opportunity to talk about the topic. A little education might make a difference.

      On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 2:28 PM, Beer & Whiskey Bros.

      • johnking82
        December 13, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

        I just see their statement fading away, into the “we know how they felt, they just finally said it” category. I mean it’s news it came out, but not news to most how they felt.

        • December 13, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

          I agree – it’s just that I find to satisfying to hear them say something I’ve been trying to draw out of them for a while.

  2. December 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    I love this. I don’t think much will come from it. Big beer is big beer, however they are losing market share. Even GABF panders to them. Charlie P himself touts their legitimacy. The thing is, there are also culprits in the community that have switched sides. GOOSE ISLAND, Leinenkugel, Terrapin.

    Money tends to always be able to speak loudest.

    • December 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

      I see this as the Brewers Association publicly acknowledging that Big Beer is a threat to their members, and they are drawing up the battle lines. It’s a big step.

      Money does indeed talk, but in today’s information age, knowledge is power and educating consumers to who is behind that “craft” beer in their hand is empowering them to make a better choice.

      On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 2:32 PM, Beer & Whiskey Bros.

  3. December 13, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    yeah I’d love to know what happened that finally made them speak up about this. Although it’s kind of preaching to the choir since craft beer geeks already know that Blue Moon and Shock Top are made by BMC. The only people I find fooled by these brands are the people who only drink fizzy yellow beer.

    More emphasis might be placed on exposing the fact Leinenkugel’s, et al, A lot of people don’t know the whole “Tenth and Blake” portfolio is owned and brewed by Miller. IT’d also be nice to expose the fact a lot of the import lagers and other macro beers are still made by BMC, Guinness, Heineken, etc. Cracks me up when people think Newcastle, Boddingtons and George Killians Irish Red are made by independent breweries (and/or that they’re craft beer). LOL

    • December 13, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

      I’d like to know as well. I’m guessing that Denis Wilson’s piece for Fortune helped crystallize things – a very good article, which is linked to above. I think Greg Koch’s quote sums the whole thing up the best:

      “If you want to listen to Milli Vanilli, I suppose that’s a choice you get to make. Just know that you’re making that choice.”

  4. bierfesten
    December 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    I think this is contentious issue that the BA shouldn’t try and say one is craft another is not. I think many who start with ‘Gateway’ beers soon move on. I have no issues in large brewers creating new styles of ‘gateway craft’ beers. Do we call them pho-craft ?

    In Belgium last month and there were 6-8 styles of Leffe. Leffe Royale was one of my favorite beers on the 2 weeks touring Belgium. Duvel Triple Hop, Chauffe Fresh Hop were the styles that were interesting.

    Obviously the PhoCraft is gaining shelf space from ‘BA’ Craft Brewers which is why the statement was made.

    • December 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

      I’d agree, but there are very clear guidelines to what a “craft” brewery is and what is not. If AB-InBev or MillerCoors didn’t want to fool consumers into thinking their “craft” beers were truly craft beers, they’d put their names somewhere on the label.

      I think there’s nothing wrong with calling them out on it.

      One thing I agree about 100% is that Big Beer is clearly posing a real threat to the little guys in the craft space, or else why bother with the statement?

      • Bill
        December 13, 2012 at 3:56 pm #

        “Craft” is more than a cool designation. It comes with legal implications. If a big beer company can pitch a line as craft – especially if they get craft exemptions and discounts in doing so – then there’s a real problem here that needs to be resolved.

  5. Brendan
    December 13, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

    I once went into a distributor in Scranton, PA and asked for Killians. The owner told me that, “It’s in the back with the other fancy imported beers.”

    Yeah, imported from Colorado.

    I’m totally with you, Jim, but this raises the question of what to call breweries like Yuengling and Boston Beer Company and Saranac?

  6. December 13, 2012 at 3:52 pm #

    I’m for it whatever the short-term result. Its drawing a line in the sand and saying this far and no further. As you indicate there are specific guidelines for what a craft brewery is (as well as for what a micro-brewery is.)

    If Big Beer wants to start selling real beer, made from barley and other natural ingredients, that realistically compete with craft, micro and home-brew, that’s great. But we don’t dare let them call their product “craft beer.” We and the BA need to call them out whenever they do so.

    Perhaps this would be a good time to poll public sentiment about just what we should call these beers. They’re obviously not BB’s mainstream beers and some, such as Leinie and GI, still cling to craft beer traditions, so lets come up with something that sets them apart from both. Both “craft” and “craft-like” have been used in this post. Are there some better, more descriptive terms we could use and suggest to BB that they use when advertising these brews?

    Some other possibilities:
    traditional or old-fashioned American;
    real (Bud/Millers/Coors);
    artisanal (Bud/Millers/Coors);

    • December 13, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

      That should read “crafty” and “craft-like” vice “craft” and “craft-like”.

  7. Bill
    December 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    I’m all for clear markings. Hell, if it’s a good beer they should be proud to put their name on it somehow and not hide behind a “crafty” alias. I don’t care if the brewery is macro or not; if it’s good, I’ll drink it. I can see where an us-vs-them mentality exists among breweries, but from a 100% consumer point of view it should be about quality if product. Those who disagree should think twice before doing their shopping at Walmart, Costco, Macy’s, Best Buy, etc. for their non-beer items (to be consistent).

    • December 14, 2012 at 9:03 am #

      I agree with Bill here. It’s an artificial distinction. The beer must stand or fall on its merits. The big corporations are evil story is getting stale. A number of the brewers that make craft beer went to UC Davis and studied under Dr Bamforth. Budweiser endowed the program.

      Recently, Jimmy Kimmel sent a crew on the street to have people compare the taste of the Starbucks $7 cup of coffee against their usual houseblend. People said the $7 coffee was richer and more flavorful. Only, it was the same coffee. We will find differences if we think one exists.

      Drink the beer because you like who made it. Drink the beer because it tastes good. Drink the beer because your server is cute.

      As Lagunitas says, Beer speaks, people mumble.

  8. Diss Content
    December 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    I would agree with the ‘preaching to the choir’ sentiment regarding the pedigree of craft beer. There’s already been numerous examples of the ‘real deal’ getting bought out by the corporate Troglodytes, who decide to attenuate a successful product with ingredient substitutions and processes which ultimately make it indistinguishable from the existing macro offerings. I truly don’t understand the desire to become of house of brands versus maintaining something distinct. People WILL vote with their wallets.

    I don’t need a certification or proclamation that the inexplicable ‘McRib’, is not in the same league as The Montgomery Inn, Dreamland or Arthur Bryant’s.

    Those who organically appreciate craft beer will do it blind folded and will be the first to notice any change to a legacy recipe, and likely detect some watery façade with a gimmicky name some Mammoth brewery is trying to push off as amazingly different.

    I do think the big breweries attempts at imitation, are the sincerest form of flattery. So well done and carry on ‘Craft Brewers’, you reflect great credit upon the art, while the big guys keep painting by the numbers.

  9. December 13, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Afterthought: I can’t help be reminded of the current battle regarding the labeling of GMO foods and ingredients. Once again, the big guys are more concerned about market share than truth in advertising.

  10. Brendan
    December 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    I’m with you, massugu, but I’d go with “evil” unless it’s already taken?

    To me, this is the result of imperialism on the part of Big Beer. Most craft brewers are earthy and approachable and collaborative dudes. In fact, when I see a craft brewer start to get terrioratorial and aggressive then the brewery seems to have jumped to the Dark Side (and no, I’m not talking about a nice coffee porter).

  11. jfwellspdx
    December 14, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

    Personally, the statement from the BA rubbed me the wrong way. I couldn’t care less that Goose Island is owned by a large corporation. What matters is that they make quality beer with good ingredients and treat their employees well. For them to say that Widmer’s Pitch Black IPA isn’t “Craft” because of their membership definitions, and the crappy-assed beers put out by wannabes that have enough money to buy a 5 barrel brew house but no clue about brewing beyond reading “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing” are “Craft” is self serving and nonsensical.

  12. tallfellapgh
    December 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Big Beer is doing what is the norm in restaurants, buy a successful restaurant with client base, substitute cheaper ingredients & increase profits. But too often the loss in quality drives the clients away, often to a new competitor.

    So it goes with Beer. But beer consumers are one of the most loyal consumer groups in the market place. So the fear with Goose Island is valid. By being aware of the acquisition, consumers will be wary of quality loss. Whether the consumer can taste it or not, (s)he is paying a premium for that expected quality. Therefore reducing quality but not price is a “rip-off.” Or at least, consumer abuse.

    I like Blue Moon, but I know it is a Coors holding. Shocktop I didn’t know was a BMC holding. It is a consumer choice what they drink, but it is their right to know who gets their $$$.

    I tried Sam Adam’s Chocolate Bock last night, I liked it. 30 yrs ago, I couldn’t handle Boch beers. Pilsner Urquell was one of my gateways to craft beers. If Bud goes past importing it, to being licensed to brew stateside, I want to know! (Goose Island paradigm).

    Knowledge is the key, and I expect the beer blogs to spread the word (way-to-go Jim!).


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