More Fear of Blue Moon (by MillerCoors!) From the Brewers Association…

Posted on Posted in Beer Wars, Blue Moon Belgian White, Brewers Association, Coors, Craft Beer, Great American Beer Festival, MillerCoors

Brewers Association founder and president Charlie Papazian is a passionate advocate for the small brewers his organization represents. He is also a prolific writer, having penned several books and magazine articles. Papazian also takes part in a new form of journalism/writing, writing a column on beer for Examiner.com. Launched in five cities, including Papazian’s nearby Denver, the Examiner.com is not associated with any particular news organization and the content is left to respective topic experts.

I’ve only recently started noting this column but one recent post caught my attention. Papazian generally writes about topics of interest to his organization and small brewers, a fair amount of industry talk actually. His most recent topic, “Blue Moon by MillerCoors ramps up marketing dollars,â€? was ostensibly about the recent news that MillerCoors plans to extend the marketing for the beer to the medium of television, a first for the carefully managed brand.

But a few throw-away lines in the lede and the rest of the article show how entrenched the association’s fear of Blue Moon is.

Blue Moon by MillerCoors is considered by many beer drinkers as a craft beer made by a small brewery. In actuality it’s a big brewer’s specialty brand that has enjoyed successful sales across the United States.

and

It will be interesting to watch whether MillerCoors Blue Moon can convince craft beer drinkers to switch from their local beers to theirs. Can advertising and marketing engage craft beer drinkers?

The unusual thing with these lines, and the entire tone of the Examiner piece and other similar pronouncements from the Brewers Association, is how they perceive Blue Moon as an interloper in the craft beer world as opposed to a brand that has actually made positive contributions to advancements in American beer culture. The Brewers Association, and similarly minded beer enthusiasts and craft brewers, appears to think that Blue Moon is a late-to-the-party attempt by a big brewer to co-opt the craft brewers’ mojo. In reality, the Blue Moon brand, as differentiated from the vast majority of craft-style beers from Anheuser-Busch and Miller, has actually been a very positive and pioneering force in the promotion of better beer in America. The truth is that there are few individual craft brands that have done as much as the Blue Moon Belgian White for changing the way average drinkers think about the pints in front of them.

I’ve been writing about The Curious Case of Blue Moon and how craft brewers have responded to it for several years. In an early BeerAdvocate column, I wrote:

And here starts the craft beer lover’s political problem. Should it matter that Blue Moon is brewed by America’s third largest brewery, one that produces more than 23-million barrels of beer per year? Countless dedicated craft beer drinkers have seen a Blue Moon tap handle, ordered and enjoyed the brand, only to later discover the Coors connection. While they certainly have an understandable objection about truth in labeling (a complaint they can also lodge with many contract-brewed craft brands), it doesn’t change the fact they probably liked the beer when they tasted it blind to beer politics. In the end, shouldn’t the question always be, is the beer any good?

I think the point remains a strong one. And it leads to my other criticisms and comments:

In dismissing Blue Moon as another big brewery poseur brand, contrarian beer lovers miss two larger points. First, in reporting the achievements of American craft brewers, the Brewers Association doesn’t include Blue Moon and its double-digit growth volume. While Blue Moon may not qualify for membership in the ‘craft beer’ club, it’s certainly a charter member of the ‘better beer’ segment. When added to the tally sheet, the Blue Moon brand’s explosive growth is perhaps the best evidence of a sea change in the American palate.

The second point is perhaps the least appreciated. In contrast to the sometimes-juvenile efforts of America’s two largest breweries, Coors has long treated the Blue Moon brand in a remarkably innovative manner: with respect. Blue Moon’s artistic point-of-sale materials, refusal to run television ads, and its dedication to the ritual of serving the luminous wheat beer in proper, shapely glassware speaks to the gentle, considered treatment of this brand. In comparison, one need only look at the absurd tap handles for Anheuser-Busch’s own line of seasonal draft beers to get the sneaking suspicion the brewing giant is trying to make craft beer look like a bunch of clowns.

I also think that the Brewers Association should stick to defining ‘craft brewer,’ which it claims to only do so for internal, data purposes, and quit trying to define ‘craft beer.’ This subject too has been discussed several times before and members of the Brewers Association’s staff have privately admitted error in previous uses of the ‘craft beer’ moniker, which no longer appears as a definition on its site. I’ve adopted the BeerAdvocate definition of craft beer, which is “beer brewed in limited quantities often using traditional methods.� Under this definition, I think Blue Moon clearly qualifies as a craft beer.

I can certainly appreciate how craft brewers, especially certain larger producers, might be concerned over competing with a macro-brewery with a powerhouse brand, especially one that apparently now plans to release specialty products, including a 9-percent Grand Cru edition. But I think the Brewers Association needs to rethink its approach to attacking brands such as Blue Moon, especially as the craft brewing industry grows. And if there is such antipathy towards these big brewers, perhaps it is time for the Brewers Association to go public with its privately stated desire to remove the larger brewers from sponsorship and distribution aid for the group’s signature money-making event, the Great American Beer Festival. With the upcoming Craft Brewers Conference in Boston, I remain interested in seeing whether the association’s membership takes some moments to let the staff know how they privately feel about these issues.

EDIT: A commenter noted another Papazian post that I was just reading as well, relating to a clip from the upcoming “Beer Wars” documentary. I thought I’d include that here for your review. I’m hoping that the film itself doesn’t just present the anti-Blue Moon side but also represents the many craft brewers who don’t view Blue Moon and Coors negatively.

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7 thoughts on “More Fear of Blue Moon (by MillerCoors!) From the Brewers Association…

  1. You’ll have your Blue Moon until they chase all the independents off the scene with marketing bucks, tied houses, and distribution monopolies. Then we’ll be back to drinking mass produced, lowest-common denominator piss. And the craft beer revolution will start all over again.

  2. Well put. I think people need to keep in mind that the French never thought an American vintnor could make great wine. That’s the same viewpoint that a large brewer cannot make a great beer. THAT’S JUST IGNORANT, PEOPLE! I support The little man, the local guys, the regional beer. But don’t knock the big guys just because they’re big. Drink, taste, and judge objectively. Give yourself a blind taste test and see what you like. It could be Blue Moon, American Ale, Tecate….. or Great Lakes, Brooklyn Beer, Sweet Water, or even Sam Adams. JUST LOVE BEER AND THANK GOODNESS YOU HAVE 1,000 OPTIONS! Enjoy people… enjoy….

  3. Hey Level-

    I was going to respond specifically to your thoughts but first decided to check out the website you provided along with your email address. Then I realized that it was Australian, which explains the tied houses comment a little better. My statements relate only to the American beer market, I cannot comment on the strength of smaller, up-and-coming craft beer markets, such as Australia, and how a similar product in their home market might affect them. As for the US, I might be concerned if my flagship was a similar styled beer, of which there are very few. Otherwise, I don’t see Blue Moon competing with American IPA’s and stouts. Also, as you likely know, we don’t have tied houses here nor distribution monopolies (not yet at least). Also, I think that craft beer in America is sufficiently entrenched in its niche that one single product, even with marketing dollars, isn’t going to offer any challenge to its continued existence. Instead, a well-done marketing campaign will lift the public’s perception of craft beer and could result in even more people to starting to think about what they’re drinking. Same goes for the recent albeit ridiculous Miller Lite ads touting “triple hops brewed” and similar A-B ads.

  4. [1st of all i must say i love how your security words are easy and *always*(?) beer words]

    on comment 4, Andy, are you saying that if Blue Moon was making a strong American pale ale your perception would be different?

    because, i almost would agree with you then.

    I really don’t like most wheat beers…

    And Truly i agree with further above, drink more local!

  5. Hi Dave-

    I think that if Blue Moon made an APA or IPA, that I could understand the concern of some similarly situated products/brewers, but I’m not sure my overall point would be much different. I think Blue Moon is a different animal altogether when compared to other macro faux-craft products. It started early on, at a time when craft’s future was far from clear, it treated the brand (and the category) with respect, focused on brewing a solid beer and then promoting it based upon flavor, and it has helped the better beer category grow. I think there is a dearth of high quality wheat/wit beers brewed by American breweries and even fewer that are widely distributed (say in more than a half-dozen major markets). Blue Moon fills an unmet niche, for the most part, and I don’t view it so much as a competitor brand than as a value-added component to better beer’s portfolio. I’m sure some competitive breweries would disagree (which is ironic seeing as the largest likely competitor, Widmer, was booted from the craft club by the Brewers Association). I think craft brewers are wrong to believe that Blue Moon steals from their customer base as opposed to helping grow it. People aren’t going to switch to Stone IPA or 90 Minute just because Blue Moon isn’t available.

  6. Fear is the wrong word to use when its comes to the BA and other breweries thoughts of “Blue Moon” or any other product produced by a macro. It is pure disgust you should be using. No, Blue Moon in no way represents a shift to micro brewed beers. It is their way of taking into a growing field based on the fear they are receiving. The thing about beer writers and common readers is they are not as in touch as they would like to think. Why don’t you talk to brewers and brewery owners, and ask their opinion. I’m sure any number of them will express a similar disgust.

    As for being happy that Blue Moon is a available for a larger crowd and wheat/wit beers not being available that just isn’t true. I would venture to guess that at least 50% of breweries produce a wheat beer. So there is a local wheat beer out there and available, not to mention the large amounts from Germany and Belgium that are also available. Germany is a prime example. Wheat beers are commonly made by large breweries, that isn’t the problem. The problem is in supporting a local smaller, caring, producer. Would you buy produce from some far off country, or from the local farmers market were it is fresh and grown by someone taking care of land here. It is the same with beer, and especially craft brewed beer. Any simpleton could tell you the difference between a large produced brewery and a local small, caring, brewery. It is about making the right decision and supporting the small local craft producers. The giants aren’t going any where so the BA is not concerned with them. Instead the BA is fighting for all the small guys protecting them so people can keep drinking new and creative beers. You never know what your local micro is going to release next? How is fighting for that worth this blasphemy, about the BA’s fear?

    Really look at the BA’s goal and it is easy to see why Blue Moon is not an asset to the industry that is craft brewing. Further look no further then to the waste of what was once a great brewing tradition over in the UK. If it were not for the BA fighting for craft brewers, the US could go the way of the UK and end up producing crap ales so high in diacetyl due to quick fermentations and lack of care to produce a good quality product. For all these reasons and so many more I say fight the macros and support the BA in their march towards better craft beer in more markets! Its the American way be proud of it and everyone who supports it.

    Chad

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