Craft beer and fine cheese

Photo taken at the Sour and Stinky Fest at The Fridge.

There have been a lot of emotions flying around the Internet lately.

Perhaps the anger and hurt feelings began when Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev announced its acquisition of Elysian Brewing Co. in late January 2015.

These emotions intensified with the commercial Budweiser ran during the Super Bowl, belittling craft beer brewers and drinkers everywhere.

A war of words on social media and in articles ensued, further fanning the flames of verbal ugliness being spewed from every direction.

If you haven't seen the commercial in question, here is it:

Ninkasi Brewing Co. quickly fired back with this parody of the now-infamous Budweiser Super Bowl commercial:

Before we go any further, let's talk for a few moments about InBev. In terms of sales volume, it is the largest beer company in the world and owns more than 200 brands that are made and sold around the globe. Under the InBev umbrella are names like Labatt, Natural Ice, Michelob, Rolling Rock and, of course, Budweiser.

There are a few other brands some may not realize are owned by InBev, including Beck's, Leffe, Spaten and Stella Artois. 

Several recent craft brewery acquisitions have been added to InBev's portfolio over the past several years. If you drink a beer from 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Goose Island Beer Co., Blue Point Brewing Co. or Elysian Brewing Co., you're no longer drinking craft beer.

There has been chatter about individuals not understanding the need to call it craft beer. Some think the word "craft" is pretentious and unnecessary. 

So what's the big deal? Why does it matter so much who owns the beer or whether it's called "craft"?

Because beer is beer, right?

InBev's most recent annual report in 2013 states that the "expansion of Shock Top and the national rollout of Goose Island were a response to a greater consumer interest in craft beer in the U.S."

Whether it has recognized the craft brewing industry as a potential threat to its bottom line or because it's losing customers to the craft beer industry, the response is to dangle a tempting financial carrot in front of breweries while at the same time spending upwards of $4 million on a 30-second time slot during the Super Bowl to mock the same breweries.

Goose Island Beer Co. was purchased in 2011 for $38.8 million and was a craft brewery that didn't even make the cut for top 10 producers in the U.S., selling a little over 125,000 barrels in 2010. Compare that to the biggest producer, Boston Beer, which sold more than 2 million barrels of their Samuel Adams brand.

The irony here is that InBev spent the money to acquire a craft brewery that brews a pumpkin-peach ale and then spent more money to specifically call out and sneer at a pumpkin-peach ale.

Elysian brewed a pumpkin-peach ale called Gourdgia on my Mind for its 10th annual Great Pumpkin Beer Festival. Was this an oversight on InBev's part or a calculated message to its newest acquisition?

• • •

According to Brewers Association, a craft brewer is three things: small, traditional and independent. 

Small: A brewery must produce no more than 6 million barrels of beer every year.

Traditional: A brewery must use traditional and innovative ingredients to create beer. Flavored malt beverages — Mike's Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice, for instance — are not considered traditional and therefore are not craft beer.

Independent: Here's the big one. "Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer." 

Elysian Brewing Co. and Goose Island Brewery? The beers may taste similar or even the same, but they are no longer craft beers, according to this industry-standard definition.

In 2013, InBev's total revenues were over $43 billion. In contrast to that number, American craft brewers brought in about $14 billion in the same year. Considering that the craft beer revenue is spread between nearly 3,000 breweries, this amount shows how small the united front of craft brewers stands next to just one of the big beer companies.

Craft brewers are the mom-and-pop shops of the beer world. It's the industry equivalent of purchasing furniture from a local Amish store instead of IKEA, of dining at a locally owned restaurant instead of a chain, and shopping at the farmers market instead of the grocery store.

Certainly, not every craft beer is going to be a high-quality beverage just because it is made in small batches and has the "craft" tag slapped on it because it fits the criteria. This argument against "craft" beer has made its rounds. 

Just because it's craft beer doesn't mean it's going to make everybody happy, and it doesn't mean the brewer is doing a great job brewing an enjoyable beer.

There are some world-class and award-winning brewers out there (we have quite a few in our local area), but not all of them rise to that caliber. What happens to those breweries whose standards aren't up to par with other craft breweries? 

They get weeded out.

It's a competitive market, craft beer, and businesses either sink or swim. Even locally, we've seen craft breweries go under for various reasons, but the bottom line is they probably weren't creating a product that consumers were excited about, or their service was subpar.

Should the Budweiser commercial upset and offend craft beer drinkers and brewers? Probably not. Who cares what Budweiser says about craft beer? It isn't going to deter any brewer worth his or her mettle and, if anything, it will further resolve the craft beer-drinking community to support its own small businesses.

Craft breweries are here to stay. They're growing at a faster rate than InBev (compare an 18 percent volume growth in craft beer to 4.7 percent volume growth for InBev). Also, the craft beer industry employed just under 110,000 people in the United States in 2012, while InBev employed 155,000 worldwide.

Craft beer is good for the economy.

Mother Jones recently wrote that, "craft beer uses four times as much barley as corporate brew." Craft beer boosts the agricultural industry, which is also where small craft malthouses like Deer Creek Malthouse are starting to make a name for themselves.

Bloggers have written some excellent rebuttals about the seemingly anti-craft beer commercial Budweiser aired during the Super Bowl. One worth your time is this one, on The Beer Babe.

This is why, if for no other reason, the word "craft" must remain in beer. InBev and Budweiser have clearly taken an "us versus them" stance, and while studies show that money spent on Super Bowl advertising isn't effective anyway, it still must resolve the community to stand by its craft. 

Craft beer is not pretentious. Not all craft beer drinkers are, either. Like Ninkasi Brewing Co. asks in the video above, "if you aren't drinking a beer for taste, what are you drinking it for?"

How do you feel about keeping the craft in craft beer? Is it important or doesn't it matter? Let Amber DeGrace know at adegrace@lnpnews.com or send her a tweet at @amberdegrace.

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