Blue Moon Kerfuffle
I was planning to go on a rant about glassware in today's post, but I got to expound at a beer and food dinner we held on Saturday, so my inner troll is a sated on that score. I will hopefully piss some people off with today's post, though. Specifically, my reaction to this whole "Blue Moon Tells Beer Snobs to Drink Up and Show Respect" article over at Bloomberg.
I have a lot of reactions to pieces of information in the article. I want to focus on some of the key points, however.
First off, is Blue Moon a "good beer"? There are several ways to look at it. Is it accurate to style? Is Blue Moon a true Belgian Witbier. Without looking at the recipe, all I can say is that it looks, smells, and tastes like it. Another way to look at it is to ask if it tastes good. Everyone has their own opinion as to what tastes good to them, of course. I think Blue Moon is meh. I wouldn't spend money on it, but I wouldn't be upset if someone handed me one. Witbiers can be that way. They can also be incredibly flavorful. Blue Moon, for me, is not the latter. All in all, I'd say it's not a bad beer, and it's certainly better than any standard American lager I've ever had. And if it gets people to try more flavorful and - more importantly - locally made beers, then Blue Moon helps the industry as a whole.
I think a more interesting question is around the ownership of the brand. TL;DR: MillerCoors owns Blue Moon Brewing. Yes, that Miller and that Coors. They claim Blue Moon runs independently. Yeah, not so much. Blue Moon is a MillerCoors brand, and MillerCoors sells a lot of beer (about 30% US beer market share, according to Reuters) and as such, they have great deal of influence over their supply chain, distributors and retailers. Much like Walmart's influence on its suppliers and the larger retail market as a whole. Blue Moon may be "craft brewed", but they have a very big brother with a lot of muscle backing them up in the fight for shelf space.
As an aside - I have a more general problem with certain huge businesses like MillerCoors, AB InBev, and the like. In short: local is [usually] better for the community and our habitat. But that's another rant for another time...
So I don't think you can call Blue Moon a "craft brewery", though maybe it's "craft beer". Which is part of the problem: what is "craft beer"? The industry is growing so quickly (15% growth so far this year, according to the Brewers Association), there's a lot of energy being put into labeling this thing that we do. We humans love to name things. It's tricky because it's big and vague. If you try to base it on volume, you risk excluding Sam Adams - they were until the definition was changed - and I think they're craft. If you try to define ingredients then you risk excluding beers with non-traditional but tasty ingredients like chocolate, coffee, flowers, and more. Beer is such a broad category, and there's so much growth in the segment, that I am tempted to take a page out of my home brew history and just say, "Relax. Don't worry. Have a beer."
Small brewers can't relax, however. The big guys aren't going to relax. The whole reason that Blue Moon said (paraphrasing) "back off, bro!" is because they see a real threat to their future existence. More and more consumers are learning that there's more than yellow fizzy water out there and some of that other stuff is really tasty. Big business does not like it when consumers start to think about what they're consuming and change their tastes. The big brewers turned "beer" into "product." Small, locally owned, more traditional breweries are taking beer back and giving it back its soul.
While this transition is going on and we approach a new equilibrium between craft beer and megabeerzilla, we must be vigilant in avoiding beer snobbery. It does no one any good, in my opinion, for craft beer enthusiasts to disdain someone else's tastes. We will not convince our friends and family to be a little more adventurous and try something new by talking smack about their choice of beverage. And craft beer is not benefited by being defined by what it is not.