Big Beer is Part of a Healthy Culture

Tug of war -- archive image from 1885.

A market with only big breweries is pretty miserable, but that doesn’t mean we want a world with only small ones.

Alan McLeod is the global beer blogosphere’s Contrarian in Chief and he likes the Budweiser Superbowl advert that has others up in arms:

Poor widdle cwaft thinks that it is all about the big bad brewer running scared but it’s not. It’s gleeful assertion meeting commercial reality. The upstretched middle finger to some. The assertion of tribe to many others. An umbrella for those who buy the 80% or more of beer that is still light, inexpensive and easy to drain. It’s lovely.

(Stan is right — that’s a great blog post.)

We kind of agree with Alan here: there might be an oblique dig at craft beer and its drinkers but, in its own way, the ad is positive, and it’s certainly honest. Rather than pretend, unconvincingly, to be small and artisanal, Budweiser is being upfront about the awe-inspiring scale of its operation.

There’s almost something romantic about it, really, just as we were moved by the realisation of the town-within-a-town size of the old Bass brewery in Burton-upon-Trent when we visited the museum a couple of years back.

Molson Coors brewery in Burton upon Trent.

(Having said that, it’s hard to summon any sentimental feeling for the multi-national corporations that now own these beloved brands.)

We do reckon that, on the whole, the output of smaller breweries tends to be more interesting but most of our favourite beers — the ones we actually enjoy day to day — are from slightly larger ones, and are far from ‘wacky’.

So, no, we don’t want every beer in the world to be an IPA or an imperial stout, as long as we can get those things when the urge takes us; and we don’t expect every single beer to be made by a small business. But nor do we want every beer in the world to be a variation on pilsner made by a giant company, and we would like a choice of stouts.

It’s not a battle between good and evil which only one side can win — it’s about achieving a balance, or even a tension. At the moment, there’s probably room for the Craft side to tug a tiny bit more of the duvet to its side but, really, things are looking pretty good aren’t they, with something for everyone?

10 thoughts on “Big Beer is Part of a Healthy Culture”

  1. From the point of view of the ad business – of the technics of marketing- it’s a very good ad, it was funny and impactful. Lots of large brewery ads in recent years are good, breweries have always been good at advertising. But those fun or funny ads of the last 30 years haven’t prevented the sales decline of Budweiser. I don’t think this latest sally will either. I believe as a product category that type of beer is in terminal slow decline, albeit it is taking a long time due to the huge volumes involved. I can’t blame AB InBev for standing behind what is still a big seller, all’s fair as they say… The company has hedged its bets anyway with the purchase of numerous craft brands, so it’s covered either way.

    Gary

  2. I just want to add that at day’s end, I stand for well-made beer – no matter who makes it but in the last generation it has mostly been small companies. The rest is more an incident of business history, the ad game and its trends, government regulation, and other questions not germane to the central point. AB InBev has the opportunity to re-invent itself in America (same in Canada via its operations here) as a quality mass brewer. It’s started on the path by buying small breweries although it could have generated the change from within decades ago. In my view, that path is its future, not clever ads that make good talking points for a while but don’t really change the dynamics underfoot.

    Gary

  3. But light lager holds at 80-85% of the market, Gary. Just because it is called Carona and not Bud, has anything changed that much?

    1. it’s an excellent advert. c.f the new Guiness 1940s Jazz censorship advert where I simply can’t fathom the message and which seems like another nail in the coffin of a dying brand.

      1. Guinness has never been afraid to make brave decisions whether pushing the boundaries in brewing great beer, innovation, or celebrating those who are Made Of More. Stephen O’Kelly, Marketing Director, Guinness said, “‘John Hammond’ continues a series of stories from GUINNESS that feature ordinary people achieving extraordinary things. John Hammond, in his search for great music, brought black and white musicians together, over-coming divides and creating a fantastic music and social legacy that continues to this day.”

        I didn’t think that press release would be in any way useful, but that’s your answer, Karen, load of bollocks though it may be.

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