“I like to reward myself by trying different, flavourful beers, but I’m intimidated by most craft beers because they’re too pretentious and complicated.”
Those are the words ascribed to an imaginary beer consumer by those responsible for marketing AB-InBev’s Shock Top in Canada, as revealed in a leaked document shared by Ben T. Johnson yesterday.
Johnson is outraged that the marketing strategy apparently relies on fooling ill-informed, well-intentioned consumers into buying what they think is the product of a small independent brewery. Broadly speaking, we agree, at least on the issue of transparency: of course there’s nothing wrong with big breweries attempting to ‘do’ craft, but misleading consumers by failing to clearly declare ownership of the brand is rotten behaviour.
What really interested us, however, is the idea that there’s an unexploited middle-ground between so-called ‘macro gak’ and full-on, high-falutin Craft Beer, capital C, capital B.
There’s long been a balancing act in beer — or, if you like, a tension. On the one hand, some in the industry, along with serious enthusiasts, feel aggrieved that beer is treated as second class, simplistic and unworthy. They believe that it deserves the same kind of infrastructure of connoisseurship as wine — books, magazine columns, arcane lore, celebrities, vintages, sommeliers, a place at the dinner table, specialist tasting glasses and rituals, and so on.
But elevate it too far and, suddenly, it’s inaccessible and over-complicated: “If you’re not going to take this seriously, please don’t bother!” (Perhaps this is what we were getting at with yesterday’s post.)
The AB-InBev/Labatt document describes Shock Top as a ‘fun, flavourful craft brand’, and perhaps that’s a bandwagon Craft Beer should jump on: fun doesn’t need to mean dumb; and respecting beer doesn’t have to mean putting it on a pedestal.