The recently announced Brewers Association’s “independence seal” has a clear purpose: to make it easy for consumers to differentiate who is in the independent craft beer club and who is in the corporate club. Naturally, brewers in the corporate club weren’t impressed.
On June 30, AB InBev responded to the independence seal with a video called “Six Viewpoints From The High End.” It features brewers and owners from Wicked Weed, Elysian, 10 Barrel, Four Peaks, and Devils Backbone. They go on to treat the seal like a personal affront to their character. Some were as upset as if they had been told that they’re not really brewers.
Which is more than just a little melodramatic. The seal was never meant to impugn the character of brewers who sold out. It’s to let people who care about supporting small business know which beers are small, independent, and traditional, and which beers are owned by money men. It’s like non-organic farmers getting upset that organic fruit gets a sticker and they don’t.
The AB InBev-affiliated brewers’ answers in the video span from blanket statements (“The beer tells the real story”) to more petulant ones (“That logo doesn’t mean shit to me”). Defensiveness is never an endearing position, but there was one argument by Walt Dickinson from Wicked Weed that especially stuck out.
“We are fighting this bigger battle, which is wine and spirits,” he says. This is where the fight should be, Dickinson argues. Beer should unite against this larger threat, rather than turning on its own. “You guys are literally in-fighting,” he went on. “This is just a civil war; meanwhile, this armada of boats is coming across the Atlantic to crush us and we are shooting each other with, you know, muskets and slingshots.”
“I mean at the end of the day we are all making beer, we are all brewers, whether you want to call us craft or not craft or whatever,” he says. “We need to band together and grow this market as a whole and if we do that everyone has a great space in the market, right?”
These are dramatics worthy of a Shakespearean adaptation. It’s not even justified drama. Most craft beer drinkers aren’t suddenly going to stop drinking good beer because of wine and spirits. Some might stop because they got into some new diet trend, but that doesn’t mean anyone should go out and make a video about it.
The video came off as salty rather than something trying to inspire brewers to unite against the threat of wine and spirits.
If you don’t want a “civil war” between brewers, don’t get defensive when someone says you can’t be a part of the cool crowd. We get it. Wicked Weed was a craft beer darling until its buyout, which caused every person with a beer opinion to collectively freak out. If it’s really all about the beer, though, then make it about the beer. Don’t come out with a marketing stunt that only amplifies the us-versus-them attitude — especially with a high-production video response when the Brewers Association’s video announcing the seal looks like an infomercial from the ’90s.
Also, side note: Brewers in The High End would clearly be the people fighting with muskets against the underdog, poor, slingshot-wielding independent brewers. People like underdogs. Don’t come out and position yourself as the powerful overlord if you’re trying to get people to buy more of your product.
AB InBev isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t have to worry about the armada of wine and spirits. Putting out a video that looks like a political attack ad just leaves a sour taste — and not the good type of sour like Wicked Weed makes. Many of those AB InBev-owned breweries are making decent to delicious beer. They should stop attacking the Brewers Association — the same organization that thought it was necessary to proclaim “beer is fun” in an official document — as if the Brewers Association can take down the largest brewer in the world.
Anyone who would care to look for the independent seal already knows who owns what anyway, and it’s not going to stop them from buying what they want to drink.
We all want to be a part of the cool club, even rich brewers, but that would make the club very not cool. Sorry, The High End.
Beer matters, but the people you drink beer with matter more.
Bryan Roth, a beer writer and director of the North American Guild of Beer Writers, took to Twitter to ask what makes for the best beer. Is it the beer itself? Or the experience?
Before announcing his findings, Roth noted on his blog This Is Why I’m Drunk that a question posed to his 2,500 followers isn’t exactly scientific, given the “self-selected, niche-of-a-niche” following of beer nerds.
But that’s what makes the poll results all the more interesting. The resounding majority of his respondents said that the experience is much more important than the beer. In other words, even the truest beer nerds care more about where they drink and who they drink with than they do about what they drink.
If you really take the time to think long and hard about it, there’s a good chance you’d choose a cold one in your favorite spot with your favorite people over a hard-to-find beer that you drink alone in the dark.
We’ll all shout, fight, and declare civil war over who owns the people who make the beer. But maybe we really should all just get along.