Last week, I was put in the awkward position of having to defend Budweiser. This week it’s Walmart. Let’s hope Exxon doesn’t get into the brewing business next week. To be honest, I’m not really defending Walmart but with any luck I’ll succeed in defending craft beer a little bit.
To bring you up to speed as quickly as possible, Walmart sold a beer branded as craft that was being brewed at Genesee and was owned by a conglomerate. The beer claimed to be from “Trouble Brewing,” which isn’t a brewery.
Is it sleazy? Of course it is. Is there something kooky about going to one of the planet’s largest brick and mortar retailers to support small batch brewing? Absolutely.
Look. Walmart is gaming the system to an extent, but so is any big company that gets into the craft beer business, and it is important to remember that companies like Devil’s Backbone and Boulevard and Goose Island also are sold alongside craft beers. They are sold at craft beer prices. Guinness Blonde was brewed in Latrobe right from the start.
The point is, price is a stupid argument. Lots of beers that don’t meet the Craft Beer standard are sold at a premium. True, they are sold to suckers, but really what props up the economy better than a fool and his money?
On the other side, it is a tough sell to say you’re passionate enough to get a lawyer but not passionate enough to figure out what you’re drinking. It’s also tough when you forget that this case was already lost by another person with more access to lawyers than sense.
Remember the “craft beer aficionado” who sued MillerCoors when he found out Blue Moon wasn’t a craft beer? Fortunately the judge threw it out because it was a bone-achingly bad argument. Covering it at the time, there were bigger concerns and they went like this:
The Brewers Association (for whom I’ve written and have a ton of respect) is just a trade org. They have rules for who can be in their club. They define what craft is for membership purposes and as Boston Beer Co. and Yuengling (which totally is not sold at “craft beer prices”) and even my local favorite Dogfish Head bump up against production caps, that definition has become a little fluid.
The concern when the Blue Moon suit was going on was that the courts might just strike down craft beer as nothing more than a marketing term. We would like to think it is more than that. I like to think that it is more than the packaging or the price that defines a craft beer. It’s both the attitude of the people who make it and the people who drink it. It’s an ideal, but that’s both the problem and the solution.
I haven’t done the research but I suspect Matthew Adam, the guy behind the class action suit against Walmart, hasn’t sued local car dealerships claiming to offer the “best” deals, or restaurants that claim to have the “best” pizza. Suits like this only raise the possibility that craft beer is an opinion, in this case the opinion of a trade group that makes (and alters) the membership rules.
I write about beer for a living, so it is in my interest to have at least a guess at what I’m buying and a reason for buying it. I get that that’s not the case with everyone but it is naive to imagine that Walmart is going to pay you off. The best case scenario here is that the case gets thrown out. The worst case is that craft beer becomes an opinion claim.
So in summary:
Don’t buy craft beer at Walmart.
Unless you are the Brewers Association, stop suing over the concept of craft beer.
Drink what you like and be happy.