Let 'Em Fight!

For BeerNexus.com

Most of us will remember when we were kids every once in a while a fight would break
out in gym or the playground. Usually everyone stood around and watched and some
even started shouting encouragement for one of the combatants, until of course a
teacher came over and broke it up. We try to be more civilized today but fights still
break out and you can get the same reaction of the crowd cheering them on. Maybe
that’s why we like football so much, as that where guys can use their bodies as
weapons walloping each other, but no fists of course.

So what does fighting have to do with craft beer; we don’t fight, or at least most of us
don’t fight. For the most part craft beer is a community of mostly like-minded people
but there are a few who aren’t of the same ilk and don’t play as nicely in the sandbox;
hey with 7,500+ breweries there have to be a few!

But I’m not talking about the craft brewers at the moment, I’m talking about the
macros; specifically the once high and mighty Anheuser-Busch and the now second
in line, MillerCoors. A-B really started getting ready for the fight back in 2018 when
they put together a commercial for this year’s Super Bowl. Maybe they thought it was
really funny or maybe they really wanted to stir the pot, but yes they threw the first

I’m sure we all remember the Bud Light “Special Delivery” commercial. The Bud Light
brewery “castle” receives a large cask of corn syrup, which the Bud Light king says
they don’t use in their beer but the helper says Miller Lite does. Noticeable in the
background are large barrels labeled barley, hops, water and rice; hint, nod, wink…
So they, being the nice beer kingdom they are, make the “journey” to deliver it to the
Miller brewing “castle.” Upon arriving they are told Miller already received their
shipment; a not so subtle dig, but maybe it belongs to Coors Light as they use corn
syrup also; whoa talk about having your competitor diss themselves. Just think of how
hard the A-B folks must have been laughing when they wrote and previewed this! So
then the nice guys journey through storms and sea creatures to the Coors brewery
“castle” where they gladly accept the barrel and say they brew Coors Light with corn

Now A-B would strongly deny they were trying to diss their largest competitors you
see it’s all about ingredient labeling…really tell me more. It seems that the beginning
of this year Bud Light started listing it’s ingredients on the label, even though it’s not
required for alcoholic beverages. And being the trend setter of hardly tasting like
anything light lagers they wanted to be the first. Just think how tough it must be to
say all that with a straight face; I’d be doubled over in laughter if I had to deliver that
message. And then how do you explain the large billboards campaign subtly worded
“Miller Lite uses corn syrup” and “Coors Light uses corn syrup”.

As an aside, I recall this summer walking into a large liquor store and seeing an
entire pallet of Bud Light Orange. I didn’t happen to check the ingredient list but I’m
assuming it says hops, water, barley, rice and “oranges”.

This is definitely your playground fight with the two biggest guys having a
“disagreement” and the slightly bigger one yells “my fizzy light lager is better than
your fizzy light lager.” Now dem is fightin words if I ever heard em! And of course the
real irony is Bud Light may not use corn “syrup” but the claim is they use some corn
product/adjunct/derivative/whatever you want to call it when they brew, so this is a
classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Of course after this ran, there was considerable uproar from MillerCoors. Suitably
pissed after being dissed, MillerCoors filed a lawsuit in March against A-B for false
and misleading advertising relating to the use of corn syrup in beer production. And
yes, we the public, really knew this is now a big deal as we hearing terms like
“Corntroversey” and “Corngate”! We all know, thanks to Tricky Dick, whenever
something becomes a “Gate” it is a big deal. And by the way the corn farmers were
none too happy neither.

Things seemed to quiet down over the summer but I was pleased to read a couple of
weeks ago that A-B filed a “heavily redacted 66 page amended complaint and
counterclaim” with the US District Court for the Western District in Wisconsin. The A-
B media  statement read “ Today, we filed in federal court claims alleging that
MillerCoors violated state and federal law by misappropriating our trade secrets
including our beer recipes…We take our trade secrets seriously and will protect them
to fullest extent of the law.” And some of the most important trade secrets were the
recipes for Bud Light and Michelob Ultra!! Russia, if you’re listening, please get those
recipes and put them on one of your fake sites on Facebook as every craft brewer
wants to know exactly how NOT to brew anything anywhere close to their beer!

So how did MillerCoors do that? Well they took a playbook from the NFL where you
pick up a player released from the team you’re playing the next week to see if you
can pick up any valuable info; they hired two former A-B guys who “shared
confidential trade secrets” and/or “sought information from current employees about
the making of A-B products.”

So now the shoe is on the other foot and MillerCoors responds that A-B is “trying to
distract from the basic fact that they intentionally misled American consumers.” Man if
this wasn’t beer I’d think I was reading the political pages.  But is this as big a
controversy, err sorry corntroversey, with the beer drinking public as it seems to be
with the combatants? A Twitter user wrote, “That’s like saying that Burger King is
accusing McDonald’s of stealing its burger recipe.” Now that’s a good analogy.
I would love to be the judge in this case! First I’d have to ask the lawyers if they’re
serious, then I’d delay it a month and order them to drink each other’s beer for that
month and then come back. That might help straighten this out.

So what does this have to do with craft beer, well a lot. First of all we’re much more
civil, we don’t go around dissing our competitors; in fact when we’re at a tasting or
festival we make it a point to taste each other’s beer. More importantly the macros
decided years ago if you can’t beat em, buy em, so A-B created their High End
Division which has at least ten “former” craft breweries and MillerCoors created
Tenth and Blake which has five “former” craft breweries. And they’ve been strategic
about it and bought some really good ones. For the most part I stay away from their
brands as I prefer to support true craft breweries but yes will have a Bourbon County
Stout or an Elysian Space Dust IPA once in a while. But by buying craft breweries
and having the ability to produce a west coast beer on the east coast and distribute it
here they’re diluting our market.

Since they’re on the shelf next to a true craft, some consumers, who may just want to
try something different or aren’t observant enough, buy it assuming its craft. And yes
there are some craft drinkers who think craft is craft even if it’s owned by a macro.  It
also puts pressure on craft breweries as the big guys have deep pockets and can
play this game a long time and try to wait us out. To a degree it’s working as we’re
seeing more breweries either close down or pull back on distribution and others join
forces in some sort of partnership to help reduce costs and be a little less
susceptible to being bought up.  Now that’s clearly not the only reason, as our
numbers continue to climb to 7,500+ now, and craft beer consumers seem to always
want to try the newest beer on tap, so we don’t necessarily encourage brand loyalty.

From my perspective I’d rather see the big guys expending their energy and
resources fighting each other and maybe they’re spending a little less time looking at
how they can screw up our craft beer. Keep the Bud Light King and the Bud Light
Knight doing “corny” battle and if you stray on the train tracks the Silver Bullet will
pick up speed and send you flying.

And just curious, is the ingredient listing on Bud Light Platinum, hops, barley, water,
rice and “platinum”…

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
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