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Thursday, November 15, 2012

Okay, One More: Faux Craft

The stories about beeg beer keep comin', and I seem to find them irresistible.  Today's story, from Fortune, fingers faux craft like Blue Moon.  Greg Koch assumes the dragonslayer's pose:
As a craft brewer, Koch is especially miffed: "Craft brewers are creative. We don't follow trends -- we create them. We specifically went against the mass-homogenized, corporatized business model…. When that very empire, the multinational conglomerate, starts giving the impression to unsuspecting consumers that they're a part of our world, of course that's offensive. 

In response to those that say that it doesn't matter who makes a beer, Koch says: "Did the Milli Vanilli scandal matter? Why were people outraged? The music that people had enjoyed didn't change when it was discovered that an unknown singer was doing the singing. But people made clear that the truth is important and they don't like being duped."
This is a thorny subject, isn't it?  I have no particular dog in the fight.  There are good and bad things about big breweries and good and bad things about small breweries.  Small breweries tend to be more interesting, and their beer does, too--but that's not a given, and it's certainly not intrinsic to size.  And when you have a guy like Greg Koch standing in for the consumer, you elide one very important fact: he's selling beer.  Promoting craft beer is a way of promoting his beer.  These things are not coincidental.

If the Brewers Association and beer geeks have made a mistake, it's in muddying the water between beer and brewery.  It is gospel among certain segments that small is always good, big always bad.  The problem is, lots of small breweries make terrible beer, and a few big ones make spectacular beer.  But because folks like the Brewers Association (also far from a neutral party) promote this paradigm, many are willing to sign on.  I would propose a different theory:

The brewery tracks and beer tracks must be separated.  There are lots of reasons to support small breweries and to castigate (as I have done two days running) big breweries, but we shouldn't be fooled that it is identical to beer quality.  Indeed, while it's important to out faux craft--big breweries only hide their connection to their "craft" brands to hoodwink consumers--there's something very good about the trend.  Good beer is winning.  Big breweries are making more characterful beer because that's the direction the market's headed.

Koch says, correctly "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."  True.  But you should also be aware that when Greg Koch is saying this, he's holding open his coat and showing you CDs of Nirvana.  Caveat emptor.


  1. What is the difference between a micro and a macro? Both want my money for their products, both, in one way or another, are trying to convince me to buy them.

    They are basically the same, people who are after our money.

    The only significant difference is that I might like some of the products of one over the other, but, unless I get to know them personally, as a responsible consumer, I have to mistrust the words and the intentions of both.

  2. Craft brewer? How long since he's been an actual brewer and not a front man for a national craft brewer? And a brewer that sells well and moderately priced beers in gas stations. It's sure good but it is a product that is available in a mass continental market on the shelf next to Blue Moon. Boo. F'ing. Hoo.

    BTW: overly hopped beers *are* follower beers and you can see Milli Vanilli from there too.

  3. Two great comments. Max, I think you could flip it, too: you can actually trust both types of breweries. Both want your business and both want you to drink their beer.

    Alan, I was going to allude to that, too. So much of craft brewing is imitation--because, to repeat myself, breweries want your business. So here in Oregon, they give us IPAs. Does every brewer who makes an IPA love them? No--and it may even be a minority who do. But they can't all make goses. Some beer has to actually make them money.

    Stone does make good beers, but despite Greg's claims, they didn't invent hoppy beers nor do they do much to move the needle off the kind of beers people are asking for. It's spin.

  4. Hmmm ... interesting read. I too sometime have the fault of bashing big beer, but when I head out to a bar and that is all they have, I'll still buy one (be it PBR).

    So where do they draw the line that they are no longer a small brewery. Look at New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Oscar Blues opening a second plant in North Carolina. What aboot Samuel Adams, they like to portray themselves as small, but I drive by the plant everyday in Cincinnati, OH, and it doesn't really look small (of course it is smaller than the Miller-Coors plant nearby). Some of these "small" breweries are now getting really big and it seems like they lose track of why they originally brewed. I don't consider Sam Adams as a craft brewery nor a small brewery (I know it is a regional brewery, but people still consider it as being small).

    If I were to open a brewery someday (a far far off dream that is more than likely to not to become true), I think that if you want to drink my beer, you have to come to me and find it. Some of my favourite breweries are like that (i.e., The Livery in Benton Harbor, Michigan).

  5. German beer drinkers: Beer is good if it is made purely from barley malt, hops and water.

    British beer drinkers: Beer is good if it is conditioned in the cask and served without extraneous CO2.

    American beer drinkers: Beer is good if it comes from a brewery which makes less than six million barrels a year.

    I submit that the American definition is the silliest of the three.