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.


  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.


  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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