A bitter aftertaste among beer rivals
I'm in Camp A, though after having been introduced to some of the craft brews produced in Northern Colorado, I'd say there are definitely a few beers that I've come to really appreciate.
I'm especially partial to New Belgium's Snow Day, which is what the brewery refers to as a seasonal. That means you can pick up a six-pack only during certain times of the year, winter mostly.
Here's how New Belgium describes Snow Day:
"Pleasantly hoppy, Snow Day carries the subtle chocolate and caramel flavors of a new brewing malt known as Midnight Wheat. ... This beer is the deep garnet of a roasted walnut and presents a creamy tan head, floating artfully atop. Snow Day is bold and hoppy, drinkable and strong."
It sure is. I've tried a lot of the beers commonly found in U.S. liquor-store aisles over the years but few have come close to delivering any of the above in terms of taste.
Which helps explain why the Brewer's Association, the trade association representing America's small, independent brewers, is so angry at the moment.
Though they're all in the beer business, there's a lot that separates companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors from New Belgium, Odell and our other small beer makers.
One of the big differences, of course, is in taste but also in how they define themselves. The small brewers put out what they call "craft beer."
The Brewer's Association says that, for a craft brewery to be deemed a true craft brewery, it cannot produce more than 6 million barrels of beer a year.
So Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, which together control 75 percent of the U.S. beer market, are definitely not craft brewers. But that doesn't mean they can't produce smaller batches of certain beers and market them as craft brews.
Examples include Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, which is made at Coors Brewing's Golden plant, and Shock Top, which is made by Anheuser-Busch at its Fort Collins plant.
The problem, according to the smaller guys, is that their much-larger competitors aren't labeling their "faux-craft beers" as products of A-B InBev or MillerCoors.
In other words, it's a truth-in-advertising, misleading marketing problem, though they claim that what is really at stake is even more important.
"By supporting small and independent craft brewers across the country, we are giving them a chance to thrive in business, create more jobs, boost the economy and compete against the massive corporations that have controlled the market for so long," the Brewers Association wrote in a recent editorial.
It's hard not to cheer on the underdog, but I think this is a case in which the craft guys are, well, crying in their beers.
Craft brewing has been growing rapidly in the past few years and showing no signs of slowing.
The Brewer's Association own editorial makes that clear:
"This country thrives on innovation, and small-business and craft brewers are the epitome of both. The large brewers employ 25,000 people in their stateside brewing facilities and, undoubtedly, in cities like Milwaukee, Denver and St. Louis, these jobs are important to the local economies. But across the entire U.S., small and independent craft brewers employ more than 103,500 Americans in local, Main Street jobs," it wrote.
That job growth happened largely thanks to the single factor that drives all business: consumer demand.
If the big guys are doing craft nowadays, it's because they've felt the heat from rivals such as Fort Collins Brewery, CooperSmith's and others like them.
New Belgium, in particular, has been growing so fast, it'll soon be able to put out 840,000 barrels per year.
Given its track record, it's easy to imagine that it'll get past that 6-million-barrel-a-year mark before we know it.
I'm just hoping that means they'll make Snow Day all year long.
Allen Greenberg is the editor of the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be reached at 970-232-3142 or email@example.com.
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