Generally speaking, I’ve tried not to get too involved in the macro beer versus craft beer argument over the years. Case in point? I have long held onto a quote by Devils Backbone brewer Jason Oliver that apparently represents his take on the division between craft beer and macro brewery beer, and the name calling and vitriol between some – not all – but some of the fans of each. In the interview he was giving, he drew a hard and fast line between what he calls “quality of flavor” versus the “intensity of flavor”, and how a beer that is low in “intensity” does not make it necessarily a bad beer. Specifically, he calls out “militant” beer geeks for slamming macro brewery beer such as Coors, Miller, or Budweiser. Now, I freely admit that it is all too easy for some of us, including myself, to come to enjoy craft beer so much for all of its endless variety of aromas, flavors, and styles that it is all too easy to take sides, and then defend that side too far, even when there’s not a battle nearby to be waged. Yet, Oliver’s opinion has stuck with me and all these years, making more and more sense as time passes, and I believe that it somewhat resonates within the “drink what you like” line that I wrote for the ‘about’ section of this blog some time ago. Basically, hidden in between those very lines: I won’t disrespect you, if you’ll do the same for me.
Funny enough, in that same interview, Oliver mentioned that despite his respect for larger brewery beer, he doesn’t always agree with the marketing techniques those larger breweries use. Whatever advertising messages Oliver was referring to then, it is doubtful that he, along with everyone else in the overall craft beer community, could’ve seen coming the now infamous television commercial that Budweiser unleashed during the third quarter of this year’s Super Bowl. You know the one. Debuted to goodness knows how many folks during the game, it has now gone into (very) regular rotation. Proclaiming that Budweiser is for “drinking” and not “dissecting”, the commercial whips back and forth between a bunch of obviously fun loving ‘buds’ enjoying their Budweiser beer at their local bar and three hip-ster looking fellas concentrating intensely on tulip glasses of dark, craft brewed beers in some vague, slightly stuffy brewpub setting, attempting to draw out the differences between those who obviously know how to drink beer and have a good time and those who take their beer far too seriously. “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale”, it exclaims, not only drawing the line deeper in the sand between craft and macro beer drinkers, but filling it with water, creating a moat, and then erecting a walled fortress built of stone boulders behind it, with a Bud flag flying high above. The commercial caught many a craft beer fan and brewer off guard, as it didn’t just attempt to defend Budweiser on its own merits, but went on to seemingly attack the craft beer community by reinforcing the already existing stereotypes of the mustached and overly manicured, dapperly dressed, opinion packing, way to serious for their own good craft beer fan.
Now, I’m not sure what the ad execs behind the commercial think we craft beer fans ultimately do with the beer in our glasses. As for myself, I drink them. And, as many pointed out at the time, I’d recommend Budweiser perhaps not slam the very styles of beers which the breweries they own actually create (as you already know, recent AB-Inbev acquisition Elysian Brewing does in fact make a pecan pumpkin peach ale). At first, I was willing to look past the stereotyping. I’d like to think that even the most regular Budweiser drinker might be able to admit that not all craft beer fans look like an updated version of a circus ringmaster. Should they need an example to the contrary, I’ll gladly give myself up as evidence. My usual craft beer bartenders don’t even recognize me if I don’t show up with some old brewery t-shirt and/or baseball cap on, and I’m far from alone. I can’t even tell you the last time I was in a craft beer establishment and saw a whisper thin mustache paired with a tweed jacket and overstyled hair. I know we exist, but I can assure you, they are just a portion of our population. But of course, that’s not really the point of the ad, is it?
Where I truly began to feel a little hot under the collar – of my old, craft beer t-shirt of course – was when the folks at Bud proudly exclaimed their beer is brewed “the hard way”, whatever that exactly means. Here’s a little thing I can assure you after running this blog for four years. Although I cannot truly vouch for the brewing staff at any Budweiser facility, I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that being a brewer at a small, craft brewery requires plenty of hard work, as many of the teams at those breweries can be quite small, and have to handle every portion of the business.
In the days that have followed the commercial’s debut, Budweiser has responded to the criticisms by saying the company wasn’t attacking craft beer, only pointing out what their own product is known for – for simple “drinking” and not to be “fussed over”. Paste magazine news editor Jim Vorel, in his response to the commercial, gathered that this must mean that Bud’s product is essentially for pouring “straight down your stomach in one fell swoop while bypassing the taste buds altogether”. And I suppose that “fussy” beer must be a beverage created so well, on so many various levels, that even Bud admits it inspires taking a moment to fully appreciate it. Budweiser ad execs continue to defend the commercial to this day – and I’m sure for many to come – by saying it was intended to be about what the beer is and not about what it isn’t, but that is clearly just a talking point for the media, and not even a well thought out one. Even the most non argumentative beer lover must admit the tv spot included plenty of stinging jabs towards the craft community by unfortunately reinforcing, underlining, and showcasing the existing stereotype of the too serious craft beer snob, before attempting a knock out with that “brewed the hard way” roundhouse, which was really just a sucker punch thrown well after the bell had already sounded.
Well known for ads featuring Clydesdales and slow motion pours of their beers to inspire their existing fans, this time, they attempted to bolster pride by including a shot or two at the competition. It was bound to come, I guess. Craft beer has been stealing the headlines away from them for quite a while, not to mention plenty of sales too. But as many have noted already, continued marketing such as this may not only keep the Bud drinker drinking Bud, but may also drive off any developing curiosity among them for craft beer. I still see those curious souls in the grocery store on weekends, on Friday and Saturday nights, walking back and forth between the more familiar macro beer aisle and the craft aisle, plenty unsure of the latter. Many still leave with the old standby tucked under the arm, and perhaps even more will now. But if you’re listening, and still remain curious about craft beer – and don’t believe that all craft beer folks are uppity snobs as some would try to lead you to believe – a respectful hand from this side of the growing divide is still extended, if only to the macro drinkers themselves and not to the company still trying so desperately to hang onto them.