Craft vs. Crafty

I changed my mind and wanted to post a link to this article before moving into the beers.

Here’s the craft vs crafty article that started my journey to the past… , written by Daniel Hartis in mid-November.

There is some really good research done for this piece, and I have to say with regards to Anheuser-Busch, the Specialty Brewing Group, and the “Who Really Brews These Beers” campaign, it is accurate-to the best of my recollection, and it was fun for me to go back and think about some of the things we did in the Specialty Brewing Group.

Regarding the “Who Really Brews These Beers” campaign, that was a tough one for me to deal with. I remember watching the Dateline piece on this, and it made me very uncomfortable. The campaign was aimed primarily at two brewers specifically, and I never liked (and still don’t like) to badmouth any other brewer, and always try to refuse to do so. I’ve always preferred to let everyone’s beer speak for itself.

Anheuser-Busch’s intense rivalry with Miller Brewing Co. is no secret, and there are some interesting stories I’ll mention about this rivalry when I start diving into the beers I was involved with. But what really got August Busch III riled up during this period was Sam Adams, mostly because Jim Koch made several claims about impurities and preservatives in American Lagers. This is categorically untrue-American Lagers (at least here in the USA) aren’t brewed with preservatives or impure ingredients, and AB was incredibly focused on the quality of the ingredients they used, even going so far as to own a hop farm in Idaho, several malting facilities and rice processing facilities. Ingredient quality was a huge piece of our intense focus on quality. To imply otherwise was considered the worst insult. The fact that the Sam Adams claims lumped “adjuncts” together with “preservatives” and that much of the Sam Adams beers were brewed in Miller breweries only fueled AAB III’s fire. AB  followed up the Dateline expose with some very targeted negative radio commercials where the “Ghost of Sam Adams” scolded Jim Koch for “lying to consumers” about where his beer was brewed. It was ugly, and I hated it. But I certainly wasn’t in any position to make my opinion heard here.

Obviously, Francine Katz and the Anheuser-Busch PR Department had a lot to do with the content of the Dateline story. But it did have a huge effect on craft brewing, many people feel this piece triggered the bubble-burst of craft beer in the later 1990s.


2 thoughts on “Craft vs. Crafty

  1. Gary Gillman

    Good article by Hartis. As Indicated in the previous thread, while I did not taste all the in-house specialty lines of the three major breweries, I did taste a good many made about 20 years ago. Most, in my opinion, just didn’t have the flavor intensity and “live” quality I would associate with craft beer.

    Budweiser American Ale was probably the first beer from a large brewer I thought really tasted like a craft beer, but I believe it is no longer made.

    The situation was different for Redhook, Widmer and now Goose Island and the other smaller breweries acquired by big brewing: their beers were and remain high quality craft by any objective (taste) definition. In other words, by going “outside”, big breweries have been able to offer real crafted taste to consumers (Shock Top and Blue Moon are certainly very tasty beers and are a kind of exception in that the Belgian white style is so distinctive to begin).

    And so, increasingly craft beer can come from both small and the largest brewers. That is the future and it behooves the small guys to be ever on the guard by seeking maximum production quality and distinctiveness for their beers. They will always have a market though, because not everyone will wish to buy beer made by a very large company and also there is a tendency – often, not always – for the flavor of mass-produced products to get ironed out over the years.

    But if, say, in 10 years 50% of the market is craft, of which perhaps half is owned by big brewing, I’m good with it. You can’t blame companies with established market positions and good reserves of capital from trying to protect and increase their share. Widespread availability of high quality beer was precisely one of the goals of the craft aka real aka genuine brewing movement, so when achieved, there is no reason to complain.


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