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, â€œBlue 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 associationâ€™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 itâ€™s a big brewerâ€™s specialty brand that has enjoyed successful sales across the United States.
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 brewersâ€™ 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.
Iâ€™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 loverâ€™s political problem. Should it matter that Blue Moon is brewed by Americaâ€™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 doesnâ€™t change the fact they probably liked the beer when they tasted it blind to beer politics. In the end, shouldnâ€™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 doesnâ€™t include Blue Moon and its double-digit growth volume. While Blue Moon may not qualify for membership in the â€˜craft beerâ€™ club, itâ€™s certainly a charter member of the â€˜better beerâ€™ segment. When added to the tally sheet, the Blue Moon brandâ€™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 Americaâ€™s two largest breweries, Coors has long treated the Blue Moon brand in a remarkably innovative manner: with respect. Blue Moonâ€™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-Buschâ€™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 â€˜craft brewer,â€™ which it claims to only do so for internal, data purposes, and quit trying to define â€˜craft beer.â€™ This subject too has been discussed several times before and members of the Brewers Associationâ€™s staff have privately admitted error in previous uses of the â€˜craft beerâ€™ moniker, which no longer appears as a definition on its site. Iâ€™ve adopted the BeerAdvocate definition of craft beer, which is â€œbeer brewed in limited quantities often using traditional methods.â€? 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 groupâ€™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.