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Big Beer dresses up in craft brewers’ clothing. Buyer beware.

on 20/11/12 at 8:32 pm


Big, global breweries have taken notice of the red-hot craft beer movement. In response, they have begun to buy and replicate their way into the movement. Some craft brewers have cried foul.

Perhaps you’ve ordered a beer at a restaurant recently. Maybe you even perused the craft beer list, looking for something different. If you’re like me, your decision was based on something other than price — otherwise you could’ve ordered a Coors Light or Budweiser for two or three bucks less.

So what was it? Was it the possibility of finding a unique, even superior flavor? Or was your decision based on the idea that a craft beer is one that’s made by a small, independently owned brewery and not by the same makers of Coors or Bud?

If it was the latter, you may want to find out who’s really making your beer before your next round.

Big, global breweries have taken notice of the craft beer movement — mostly because that’s where actual growth exists in the otherwise stagnant beer industry. In 2011, craft brewing saw growth of 13% by volume while overall U.S. beer sales were down an estimated 1.3% by volume. And even though craft beer still accounts for less than 6% of all beer sales, anyone remotely connected to the business knows it will play a big part in the industry’s future. Craft beer delivers higher profit margins, it attracts consumer spending, sought-after clientele for bars and restaurants, and many people are passionate about craft beer, similar to the same way people are passionate about wine.

Everybody wants in. And so the macro-breweries have launched beers that approximate the craft taste profile (the popular Coors brand, Blue Moon), purchased stakes in some craft breweries (southeastern Terrapin Beer Company by MillerCoors), and snatched up others entirely (such as the recent acquisition of Goose Island Brewing by Anheuser-Busch).

What’s noteworthy about these forays into the craft segment is the way these brands are purposely distanced from their Big Beer parents. You won’t find the Coors name on a bottle of Blue Moon. Rather, you see the name Blue Moon Brewing Company. The same goes for a bottle of Anheuser-Busch’s Shock Top. To distance their craft products from their billion-dollar household brands, the big brewers have gone so far as to create separate divisions to house their specialty brands: MillerCoors has created Tenth & Blake Beer Company while Anheuser Busch (BUD) has the Green Valley Brewery.