Note: This is the final part of three columns highlighting the bad – and good – side of America’s evolving beer tastes. Read part one about why declining macro beer sales can be bad and part two about why Big Beer seems to be clueless.
“Small isn’t always good. Big isn’t always bad. Get informed. Think for yourself.”
– Todd Alstrom
When I was a poor college student, my friends and I frequented a single bar in town that offered buy one, get one free deals every Friday night. Buy a pitcher for four or five of us – have another on the house.
We wanted to drink cheap, but we didn’t want to sacrifice taste. Bud Light and Coors Light were popular for other students, but my friends and I always spared the extra couple bucks for a pitcher of Blue Moon, which was even something The Missus wanted to drink. As we passed around the pitcher and filled our glasses, we didn’t care the beer was made by MillerCoors, we just cared it tasted pretty damned good for what we could afford.
This is why, despite declining sales of formally popular brands, it’s a good thing Americans don’t want to drink Michelob or Amestel Light or Budweiser Select. It has forced Big Beer to become crafty – now a taboo word thanks to the Brewers Association. In the process of doing so, Big Beer and Americans have all benefited.
So what gives? Let’s hit the jump to find out.
The reason why we’re so lucky to have Big Beer conglomerates duking it out for a spot on our coasters is the same reason why it’s bad. It spurs innovation. We operate in a market-driven economy where people vote with their taste buds and wallet. Recently, that means the craft beer industry grew 13 percent by volume in 2011. It means we have the most breweries we’ve ever had in over a century.
It also means that Big Beer has to get thinking about how they can make their products better since their old standards aren’t doing so well. Can we just judge brewers by their beer and not by our feelings toward their institutional model? Blue Moon – the savior of my college days – now features more than a dozen different beers over the course of a year. Hell, they’ve made a peanut butter ale. You know what? That’s pretty cool. That means more people are going to get exposed to tastier alternatives to Bud Light or Coors Light. As they continue to innovate, MillerCoors/Blue Moon even have standards in place to make sure it’s the customers who help to drive brewing decisions.
While we can lament the popularity and growth of Big Beer entering our sacred craft beer market, is it really such a bad thing? Yes, it sucks that AB InBev bought Goose Island. But you know what? AB InBev is epic in its commitment to quality control. So long as Bourbon County Stout stays an amazing tasting beer, I’ll be happy.
It’s easy to see why the decline of nine crappy, macro American beers has happened. Customers palates have changed. They want more flavor and they want something new. So Big Beer has had to adapt, but so have all the micro and nano breweries out there. While we can get lots of Blue Moon variety, we can also travel down the road and find brewers who just want to play and make great beer because they want customers to be happy with something new and fun. The reason why we have 2,126 breweries (and counting) in America is because people want good, flavorful beer. This has forced the hand of Big Beer – for good or for bad – to come up with new ways to innovate and offer their beer. And we all win. The Suits get a shot at increased profits and The Customers get more variety.
All sides to the argument of “craft vs. crafty” or the benefits of nine beers Americans no longer drink are the same. What it’s about is the fact that everyone wants good beer. Everyone wants better beer. Everyone wants new ways to enjoy the best beer with their friends.
And that’s a reason we should all raise our glasses.
If you’d like some other takes on the “craft vs. crafty” debate and the other aspects that go with it, here are a few suggestions: