Brewed the Hard Way and Craft Beer: Mudslinging is Dirty Business

Posted by Jason Gladfelter, M.A. on February 03, 2015  /   Posted in Articles

If someone throws a ball of mud at you, how would you react? Probably feel a bit disgusted and affronted, and maybe return the favor. It’s natural to seek retribution, but rarely does it resolve anything. After a while, mud is everywhere.

This is evident in the political world, especially during election season, when candidates attempt to tear down each other to benefit themselves. It is quite ugly.  Now we have seen this mudslinging enter the beer world through a Super Bowl commercial. Actually, it’s been around for a while; a latent dispute that was not yet ready for prime time.

The craft (or micro) brewing community has attacked beers of BMC (Bud-Miller-Coors) for decades now. Partly because they had to in order to market the distinctiveness of their products, but also because of how much the craft beer community detests BMC’s products, brewing processes and business practices. Occasionally a craft brewer would praise the remarkable accomplishments of BMC, but according to (most of) the craft beer community, BMC makes “piss beer”, or “fizzy, yellow wimpy beer”.

AB/InBev’s “Brewed the Hard Way” Super Bowl commercial thrust this dispute into prime time with a sharp counterpunch. It elicited a cry of “foul” from the craft beer industry. Craft beer geeks, dorks, brewers and connoisseurs have responded vehemently to this macro brewery’s advertisement.

It seems the years of smaller attacks from the craft beer community finally pushed AB/InBev to say “enough is enough” and start throwing mud back at the craft beer community. Perhaps the success and growth of the craft beer market segment has AB/InBev a bit nervous. And when you make the big dog nervous, it may just bite. Regardless, can craft beer take a dose of their own medicine?

Judging from social media posts, the answer is “no”.  Perhaps it’s a bit unfair that one side has a Super Bowl commercial and the other doesn’t. Yet, just because the BMCs are international conglomerates does not mean they are impervious to insults. They employ brewers, who brew a certain style of beer and feel insulted when that product is belittled. Perhaps the ongoing “piss beer” insults persuaded retaliation in the same vein.

Nor are the 3,000+ breweries in the U.S. impervious to insults. A vast majority are small businesses and conduct business on a personal level. Handshakes and honesty are paramount to small business owners. When they are misled or lied to, or they see promises broken, it affects them personally.  So they get defensive when they see a Super Bowl commercial attacking their livelihood, and insult them with the “brewed the hard way” tagline. Small brewery owners know firsthand how hard it is to brew good beer. Having a Macro brewery belittle this is a low blow and very personal. The temptation to return the ball of mud mounts.

Does the brewing industry, macro and micro, really possess a desire to develop a mudslinging campaign? I hope not. I hope they respect each other’s business publicly and behind the scenes. Staying clean in a mud war is difficult, especially when the mud continues to fly. There is nothing to gain through slinging insults. Of course, turning the other cheek is also difficult, but it can help clean up the mess. Respect the competition. Employ some empathy to another’s livelihood. Discontinue the “one-upping”.   Take the high road and let the beer flow.

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