Tuesday, June 10, 2014

First Crafty, Now Pseudos

Ya' know what no one ever mentions? No one ever mentions that Infiniti is owned by Nissan.

They've been sold in the US since 1989, and in those 25 years I don’t ever once remember seeing a commercial or an advertisement explaining the connection. Basically, the cars in Infiniti's line up are Nissans with some lipstick and a little blush.

Then take Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Homespun, right? They started in a garage in Burlington Vermont, They’ve named an ice cream after Jerry Garcia and Phish. They're socially and environmentally conscience. They’re also owned by a multi-national corporation who also makes soap.

People don’t seem to mind that kind of stuff. Selling toys made of toxic plastic, or supporting apartheid is one thing, but who's going to turn down Chubby Hubby? The craft beer world, that's who. 

Here a case in point.The Detmer Group, a California mid-market consumer investment bank and corporate development advisor, has recently put together a handy-dandy report, explaining that craft beer needs protecting from “pseudos”. Pseudos being those beer brand like Blue Moon, which are made by macro-breweries and packaged like craft beers—or even worse those dastardly breweries like Red Hook, Pyramid, and Goose Island, who have *gasp* partnered with big breweries. The report, with its graphs and charts, explains that the "royal we” can’t tell the difference between the true originals and the impostors—noting that what “craft is to consumers” is often not what craft thinks of itself.

The pseudos are gaining too. According to the report breweries like Kona, Magic Hat and Leinenkugels all which were once “craft", but have since gone to the supposed dark side, hold 19% of today’s craft market and could potentially reach 33%, if given the opportunity. But, the report has fairly clear suggestions as to how best to deal the pseudo issue and “authentically” position craft.

Except, there's a bit of a snag.

Nowhere in the report does it mention why people buy Blue Moon or Pyramid beers. The report makes the assumption that those beers succeed on the marketing tactic of the bait and switch alone, not that people actually like Kona’s or Shock Top—regardless of their authenticity. Basically, the report assumes people are buying a beer like Widmer Hefeweizen, simply because they think it’s from a craft brewery, not because they like it. That’s seems like a pretty big assumption—and quite omission.

Aside from the marketing aspect, I do have to ask: How is Coors owning Blue Moon any different than the officially-recognized-craft-brewery Boston Beer Company owning partial interest in Alchemy & Science—which makes the Just Beer Project beers? Both the pot and the kettle are black, right? Doesn’t that make "big craft” just as much a threat to craft as AB Inbev or Coors?

I’ve got to say. I think this authenticity slant is marketing bullshit. Bullshit that beer insiders and marketers are feeding to breweries. Long story short, maybe small beer needs to focus a little less on labels like “authenticity” and more on making the beer people like to drink.


  1. Agreed. Craft has no inherent value other than suggesting a product people will like but they may not, e.g. because it is poorly made or perhaps too well made. E.g., IPAs have a ton of hops and many people don't like that. If pseudo-craft can produce a more nuanced version (enough) people like, more power to them. Recently someone told me they liked Yuengling Lord Chesterfield, made for generations, because it is like a "light" IPA...

    Scale is not relevant as such.


  2. That thing that certain beers are successful only thanks to the marketing is the most patronising ball of bollocks in the beer discourse.

    Sure, marketing may get you to buy that first bottle, can, six pack or glass, but that is as far is it will get the product if you don't like what's in that bottle, can, six pack or glass.

    1. It's not necessarily the marketing I mind—especially since I come from an advertising background—More to the point is that often the idea of "craft" trumps the beer itself. The importance of "craft" falls not on the beer but the beer maker. For me, that's just unimportant. That's why for me—and I stress the "for me" part—good beer is important, not who makes it.

      Quite honestly, I think the whole craft vs crafty thing is a dopey argument to begin with. It's like a 1950s red scare mentality. I think small breweries should be paying more attention to what "big craft"—like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada are doing—rather than AB and that lot. Big craft is a lot closer to home. That's what I was getting at with the Coors/Blue Moon versus Boston Beer/Just Beer Project comparison in the article. Really, how are the two situations different?

    2. That's the other elephant in the room nobody seems to want to speak about.

      A good example of that is Sierra Nevada and others opening new factories far from home for some reason are not supposed to be seen as a threat to those properly small breweries in the area, and yet, nobody has been really able to explain why

    3. I think it's a bit more complicated than that. Consumers can be goaded in liking the staff that is marginally pleasing. Say they buy a megabrew beer and feel it's empty - but there is a school of thought that says- Hey, what do you want? Pop a cold one, gulp, be happy. There is nothing more to it. - And a drinker can just shrug off his dissatisfaction: - What the hell? A beer is just a beer. -
      Or on the other extreme someone buys some pretentious concoction, doesn't like it - but another line of reasoning goes like: - Perhaps you are not ready to appreciate such beer yet. Try it one more time. Or two more times. As much as it takes to see it's really good and complex and exquisite. -

      So there are some way to convince a consumer to buy a stuff he didn't like initially more than once.

  3. Everyone can explain why, they just don't want admit it.

    The "craft beer is one big happy family” song has to be played, like a broken record. In reality, Sierra, Sam, and everybody else wants as much of the market as they can get—and can produce for. But the Kool Aid drinkers and marketeers choose to ignore that card because they've been waving the "craft is small, and small is good flag" for so long that they are now intrenched. The problem is some parts of “craft” aren’t so small anymore.

    Again, as is so often is with beer, we are presented with only absolutes, when reality is quite different.

    1. Well said.

      Every time I see the line "big beer=evil corporate monsters, small beer=lovely passionate people" I see someone who, either doesn't know what they are speaking about, or knows it very well, but doesn't want the public to think about it. I don't vouch for anyone I don't know personally, I believe the owners of many, if not most, small companies, if given the chance, would act every bit as bad as ABIB or MC.

      Beer ought to be judged by what you have in the glass, all the rest is subordinate to that.

    2. "Beer ought to be judged by what you have in the glass, all the rest is subordinate to that."

      Well said.