It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Ever had Cat's Away IPA or After Party Pale Ale? I did when I visited family this Thanksgiving in
upstate New York. When I asked my sister where she got them she politely replied, "I found
them on the shelf at Walmart. I know you like craft beer so I got them for you." I appreciate
the thought but despite labels that evoke the look of a craft brewery the question was were
they the real deal or did my sister get hoodwinked?
A bit of research showed that the beers are Walmart brands brewed (along with others for that
giant retailer) at the Genesee Brewing Co. in Rochester. The labels don't say Genesee,
however: They indicate the beer is made by a company called Trouble Brewing, which has the
same address on St. Paul Street in Rochester as Genesee. How's that for coincidence, Bill?
As I see it Walmart is misleading consumers like my sister into thinking they're buying "craft"
beer when they're not. Genesee does not meet the recognized definition of a craft brewer put
out by the national Brewers Association nor does it meet mine.
The Trouble Brewing beers are, frankly, wholesale fiction. The brewery simply doesn't exist! All
this seems intentional designed to not only deceive people but have them pay a relatively high
price for low quality.
How convoluted is this scam? Well, I discovered that Trouble Brewing is, in fact, a legal
business partnership between Walmart and Genesee. To add some confusion, Trouble
Brewing is owned by another business subsidiary, called WX Brands, which has an address in
By the way I did pick up some of that beer for your Christmas gift Bill. Just teasing I should
have since Walmart sells the Trouble Brewing beers for $8 per sixpack. It would make for a
cheap gift. Considering the last beer I gave you cost $18 for a 4 pack it goes to prove you get
what you pay for.
Look Bill, we're savvy enough to see through this but my concern is with those people who are
duped. Not only are those people being flimflammed they're getting the wrong idea about just
how good craft beer is.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina -
I hope none of those Walmart issues ruined the holiday for you. You need to relax. Settle in
tonight with a good book and some good beer, say a sixpack of Cat's Away IPA. Ha.
First of all let me remind you that the practice of one company paying another to make its beer
is very common in the brewing industry, and is as old as craft beer itself. In fact we've done a
couple of columns about "contract brewing." Please remember that Sam Adams, Brooklyn and
many other famous beer-makers started that way. And by the way, Booklyn continues to have a
good bit of its beer made under contract at F.X. Matt Brewing in Utica, NY.
Of course, many non-craft brewers contract brew: Pabst Blue Ribbon and the rest of the
"classic" brands in the Pabst portfolio are all made that way. Pabst hasn't had its own brewery
for decades though I did recently read that have plans to again brew beer in Milwaukee at the
site of its historic former brewery. If that ever happens I don't think it will make much difference
in the taste however.
As to your overall point about Genesee, please note that they make plenty of other beers under
contract, although its corporate policy is not to discuss those partnerships publicly. And as you
may know, it's not uncommon for contract brewing partnerships to set up subsidiary company
names. There's nothing evil, conspiratorial, or illegal about that.
Speaking of legal, Federal law does require beer makers to state on their labels "the name of
the bottler or packer and the place where bottled or packed." The law allows the beer label to
give the name of a company that contracts with another to make its beer, but does not require
it. So Walmart is not legally required to puts its name on the Trouble Brewing beer.
I know you said Trouble Brewing and the others don't meet the Brewers Association definition
of craft is (nor mine or yours.) However there is no legally binding definition of what craft beer
or craft brewing actually is.
Not to get you more upset or confused or both, I checked and found that Genesee is a
subsidiary of North American Breweries, which is itself owned by the Florida Ice & Farm Co. of
Costa Rica, best known as the maker of "Imperial" brand beer of which it produces nearly 3
million barrels a year. But Genesee also has a smaller business, called the Genesee Brew
House, which produces beer it calls "craft." Those beers are generally found alongside other
craft beers in stores and bars.
Maybe the easiest thing to do the next time you visit your sister is to bring some of your home
brew. To me that's really great craft beer.....and if Santa is listening I'd like that in my stocking!
Here's looking at you Gina