Is Big Beer Stealing Craft’s Authenticity?

It’s one of the biggest stories in the beer world these days and it’s not going away any time soon.  Big Beer can’t ignore craft beer anymore and is getting into the game. Last week we pointed to two articles, both from craft beer with – in some ways – opposite messages about related issues. 

This week, CNNMoney has an interview with SABMiller (MillerCoors) executive chairman Graham Mackay on why the company is getting into the “craft” beer market. You can read it here and it’s fairly revealing.

Mackay admits Big Beer can’t practically or credibly “incubate” it’s own small brands, so, instead, SABMiller is looking to “cozy up” to people who have “incubated good business” and selectively acquire and form partnership with them.

So there’s the model. Admit you can’t do it and go out and acquire those who can.  It’s profit motivated. Solely. It’s preserving market share and hoping to take more of it. 

But let’s not kid ourselves. I don’t know of any brewer – craft or otherwise – that isn’t profit motivated.

As craft beer fans, it’s too simplistic to disparage Big Beer because it’s profit motivated.  Craft beer can sound a lot like big beer when it’s being honest about the need and desire to maintain profits and grow. Taking pot shots at Big Beer for comments like these is easy and, frankly, a little disingenuous.

No, we need something more.  Fortunately, the article and Mackay deliver.  In response to SABMiller’s plan to cozy up to those who already do well in the craft beer world, CNNMoney asks, “Do you think that the core craft consumer embraces this model?”  Here’s Mackay’s answer:

There’s a huge debate in the craft world about us, all big brewers, because we’re like the enemy. We’re the other guys. They think we’re stealing their authenticity. What we say is, “Let the consumer decide.” If we’re authentic enough for the consumer, that’s authentic enough for anyone.

“Stealing their authenticity.”  Wow.  I guess that’s one way to put it. And it’s flat wrong.

Creating “craft” brands merely to maintain profits and market shares is nothing akin to “authentic.” No doubt, it may taste like something I want to drink (and, some of it I do).  But authenticity means disclosure, not pretending Blue Moon is “craft” because it’s made by Tenth and Blake Brewing Co, SABMiller’s craft incubator.

Authenticity means sense of place matters.  Authenticity means knowing who brews your beer matters.  Authenticity means being proud to display on your label who you are, where you brew, and what you do, matters.

Montana is full of examples.  All 36 of them, actually.  Take Blackfoot River Brewing Co. in Helena.  Started by a few homebrewing friends with a desire to turn it into their livelihood because they actually enjoy making beer for more than profit’s sake.  You want authenticity? Sit down in their crowded tap room to a pint of  Single Malt IPA and you can taste it. Want to meet the owners and brewers? No problem. Want to know how it’s made, where it’s made, and what ingredients are in it? No problem. They deserve to make money crating a product we want to buy and enjoy, and no one is stealing their authenticity.
No, Big Beer isn’t stealing anyone’s authenticity. It’s trying to hide from its lack of it.