I guess a lot of you guys who know me won’t be surprised that this post is something I’m fired up about. Just a look at my little label cloud on my sidebar shows how prevalent “anger” is. I get fired up easily. Dog rescue and fighting puppy mills, politics and people who vote without research… and this time, beer.
Beer has been a part of my life for more than a decade (sorry Mom) but early on, I thought beer was GROSS. I got used to the light, tasteless, nasty stuff people bring to parties… Natty Ice, Beast, Coors/Bud/Miller lite, Corona, etc. Yes, I consider these crap beers now. But hey… I didn’t mind them then.
This was back when I thought Corona “Extra” meant extra alcohol. I was wrong.
I had pretty much exclusively switched to mixed drinks (and pre-gaming) and didn’t really give beer a second thought until after college. Except, you know, when bonging beers. When I moved to Indiana, my sorority’s local alumnae chapter had a beer and cheese tasting at Rock Bottom, which is where I discovered 1) goat cheese and 2) that beer could actually be delicious and flavorful. I became addicted to their red, and started to order things like Blue Moons at bars. I laugh now at how much I had to learn- but it was a step in the right direction. I previously talked about how far I’d come in the My Evolution of Beer post.
When Big Daddy and I were dating, we both started picking up new beer tastes. When I tried Upland’s Dragonfly IPA I became addicted to hops, and it’s been a great trip since then. I always try to encourage people to try beers, because no matter the person’s tastes, there’s a beer out there for you. Rich, coffee and caramel roasty flavors. Light, fruity flavors. Bitter and sour and sweet flavors. Wheat beers and fizzy beers and hoppy beers. It’s a wonderful world. I couldn’t have been prouder or more excited when my cousin wrote THE book on Indiana beer. (Buy it here now! And FYI he’s working on a Massachusetts one too!)
B and I try to buy local, craft beers whenever possible. When we go out to nicer restaurants we try to order something that is from that menu’s background area like Asian, Italian, etc. But we still buy a lot of the “lite” beers when just buying some to drink at home. I got caught up in the gimmicks, but always preferred good, flavorful, thoughtful microbrews.
We watched a documentary-style movie on Netflix yesterday that completely sent me reeling on this very topic. It’s called Beer Wars, and it opened my eyes to what I was drinking and why. And after seeing it, B and I agreed- no more buying anything from Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors.
There are tons of reasons, which I will try my best to outline for you. First of all, you need to see the movie. It’s a little outdated in a few parts- note that A-B is owned by InBev now (or per Wikipedia – “an American brewing company and a wholly owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev.”) InBev is a foreign company so when you’re drinking Budweiser… know that it’s not an American beer. MillerCoors was discussed as separate entities in the movie but are now merged.
Why should you care who brews your beer? Well, first of all, let’s talk taste. Have you ever let a Bud/Miller/Coors “lite” beer warm up a bit and drank it? Piss water. Even a light beer from a micro/craft/local brewery will have flavor that stands up at room temperature. They have, for the most part, a higher alcohol content. And did I mention flavor? If you are addicted to a beer that I’m calling crap beer (aka any of the “lites,” Corona, Stella, Blue Moon- etc) ask me, or a bartender/brewmaster at a local place, or even an employee at any large beer emporium-style store, “What would a comparable beer be from a smaller brewery?” Like I said before, there’s a GOOD beer out there for everyone. Plus, you get more alcohol content per beer, so even if you spend more, you won’t have to drink as much to get a buzz on. You can enjoy it. You can complement your menu like you would with wines. You won’t have to pee after every beer because you aren’t drinking watered down crap. For more reasons to drink craft beer, check this out, or this- which lists the top craft breweries. Sam Adams is actually – while largely distributed and well-known – the biggest craft brewery out there. Good for them! (They’re a great beer to buy at bars with smaller selections.)
It goes further along though than just the product you’re drinking. A-B and MillerCoors are scary companies that I now liken to Walmart (which, besides having hilarious people-watching, I try to avoid due to company practices and because you tend to “get what you pay for.”) I’m sure you all realize how much A-B and MillerCoors spend on advertising- it’s ridiculous. We’ve all seen the Super Bowl commercials, and noticed their sponsorships of athletic events. But I bet you didn’t realize how much they are pushed at you. Because they are such high-volume sellers (A-B actually sells nearly 50% of all beer in America! - source) stores will give them prime eye-level space with multiple types of packaging. 6-packs, 12-packs, bottles, cans, 30′s… you name it. It becomes plastered in a grouping, like a billboard for the brand. I hate having advertising shoved down my throat, and never even realized the disparity between the space they’re provided, and the one-slot-per-beer the smaller companies get.
I bet you also didn’t realize that A-B and MillerCoors own some brands you didn’t realize. A-B owns Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, Michelob ULTRA, Shock Top, Stella, Hoegaarden, Leffe, Bass Ale, Boddingtons, Czechvar, Lowenbrau, Staropramen, Beck’s, Alexander Keith’s, Landshark, GOOSE ISLAND (sob), Busch, Natty, Rolling Rock, Kirin, O’Doul’s, Redbridge, Wild Blue, ZiegenBock, and others, including malt beverages, Bacardi, etc. (source) And A-B also announced last week that it intends to buy out the remaining stake in Grupo Modelo, adding Corona, Modelo, and Pacifico brands. (source) MillerCoors owns Coors, Hamm’s, Icehouse, Keystone, Milwaukee’s Best, Olde English, Red Dog, Southpaw, Steel Reserve, Águila, Cristal, Cusqueña, Grolsch, Lech, Peroni, Pilsner Urquell, Tyskie, Batch 19, Blue Moon, Killian’s, Henry Weinhard’s, Leinenkugel’s (SOB!), Foster’s, Molson, Winterfest, and others including malt beverages and… my college favorite… Sparks. I may have dropped a tear on that one. (source) Surprised at all? I was. I loved me some Goose Island and Leinenkugel. But they got bought out and now are just a part of these monolith corporations.
Smaller breweries are obviously not going to have the same opportunities for advertising or production that A-B and MillerCoors do. Just like with restaurant or retail chains, some are big while others are small. But the issue that is most troublesome is distribution. Small breweries are hurt by America’s outdated beer distribution laws. The laws break distribution into three tiers to separate the process… similar to how our government is separated into Congress, Executive and Judicial branches. The law says that the brewer cannot deliver directly to the retailer. Retailers then have to buy through distributors- who hold much of the power. The three-tiered system inhibits the growth of small breweries. It’s very political. A-B and MillerCoors usually are 90% of their distribution (you saw the above list, right?) and so craft brews have to find their way into that 10%, usually on a nice big COORS and BUDWEISER truck. There is bribery to move the major brands, and even distributors pushing for legislation to limit the distribution of smaller brewery products, so their major players have more room to move.
Then, there’s the trickery. I’m a rules-follower to the core, so hearing these stories absolutely killed me. Did you know that there are beers- owned by A-B or MillerCoors- that don’t say so on the bottle? They have tricky “brewery” names which you’d have to google to find out the true origin. For example: Batch 19, which says it’s brewed by Tenth and Blake. Who is Tenth and Blake? Oh just a division of MillerCoors. But you won’t see that on the bottle. (source) Buy organic beer from Green Valley Brewing Company? It’s A-B. But nowhere on the label does it say that. (source) So you have to hide who you are when selling a product? Using deception openly? Not sure why you’d feel like that’s a good company to give your hard-earned money to. Or how about the MillerCoors people that are able to propose legislation that would hurt local craft breweries… and because to their political donations, they are able to do so? (source) They also flex the money they have to hurt small brewers. A-B is allegedly trying to trademark local area codes (due to the popularity of Goose Island 312…) so they can continue to deceive customers. (source)
There’s also some dubious litigation. A-B in the film was shown as suing Dogfish Head for their use of the terms “Punk’in Ale” and “Chicory Stout.” Why? They claimed the names were too generic. Please go back up and read my list of A-B owned beers, and tell me how many of their beer names aren’t generic? (More info on the resolution here) They even tried to get Budini Wine to change their name so it didn’t have “Bud” in it. (source) Yet they put out beers that are supposed to look like craft beers. And they take ideas from small breweries to use as their own, bullying them out of the market. That’s what happened to MoonShot, a beer in the documentary that had caffeine in it. Later, Budweiser announced B to the E, which was marketed as the first beer with caffeine. Granted, FDA rules later shut down both beers, but they took MoonShot’s idea and made it their own- backed by Budweiser’s name, production, and advertising budget.
I guess this is a matter of personal taste. A-B and MillerCoors are doing well (though losing their market share very slowly as smaller breweries gain momentum less than 1/10th of a percentage at a time) and employ tons of people. That’s fantastic. I support large companies in general. But I don’t have to like all their practices. And, in my opinion, they offer a shitty product. Sometimes I’ll get over my Walmart hate when I need to buy, say, a shower curtain liner and some zucchini. We have a Walmart nearby, but no Target in sight. So I suck it up, and curse my decision while waiting 20 minutes for one of the two cashiers to help me. You get what you pay for- and I know what I’m getting at that store. So now I know what I’m getting when I purchase Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors. And it’s not worth it to me anymore. I’d rather spend a little bit more on something I can enjoy and feel good about. I may end up drinking their beers in the future (weddings, or parties, where I can’t or don’t bring my own… I’ll take their beer over no beer!) But I can tell you that Big Daddy and I won’t be purchasing them. And we’ll work even harder to support tasty local brews… beers made with thoughtful care to compliment foods and intrigue the pallet. Why would I settle for less? It’s like a McDonald’s right next to St. Elmo’s Steakhouse… and they’re comparable in price. Which would you choose?
Next time you want a beer, head to a local brewery. Many do free sampling. Pick up a growler! And feel free to comment on this post with questions, thoughts, or arguments. I really want this to be a conversation about what you all think! Especially if you watched the movie on Netflix. What did you take from it?
(Oh and for anyone who wants to know my favorite beers, they are Upland’s Dragonfly IPA, Rad Red Amber Ale, and Komodo Dragonfly Black IPA, New Albanian’s Hoptimus, Bell’s Hopslam and Christmas Ale, Schlafly’s Dry Hopped APA and Pumpkin Ale, Thr3e Wise Men’s Golden Zoe and Hubbard & Cravens Porter, Sun King’s Osiris, Ruckus Brewing Co’s Hoptimus Prime, Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, Barley Island’s Barfly IPA, 3 Floyds’ Alpha King, Rock Bottom College Park’s Heartland Red and Simcoe IPA. I *think* that’s it. But I reserve the right to add to the list at any time!)
ps- I would like to add a disclaimer that I do not condone nor support underage drinking and would advise against it.