The King of Beers this weekend sent out a decree to all of the beer-drinking land: Our beer is brewed the hard way and isn't meant to be dissected, only drank.
If that's not the thought process of a regent who thinks he knows better than his populace, you wouldn't be alone in saying so. Many in the craft brewing world have taken offense to this Super Bowl ad that Budweiser ran, depicting their flagship brew as a symbol of pretentiousless thinking when it comes to drinking alcohol.
See also: In Defense of "Ten Best" Lists
Watch the ad below.
The text is striking in its direction. They are positioning Budweiser as the "don't-care-about-flavor-just-drink-it" beer. They seek to knock their competitors (and why wouldn't they?) since sales are sliding ever closer to dangerous territory.
Proudly a macro beer. It's not brewed to be fussed over. It's brewed for a crisp, smooth finish. This is the only beer Beechwood aged since 1876. There's only one Budweiser. It's brewed for drinking. Not dissecting. The people who drink our beer are people who like drinking beer. To drink beer brewed the hard way. Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale. We'll be brewing us some golden suds. This is the famous Budweiser beer. This bud's for you.
This direction reminded me of another alcoholic beverage sector: wine. So I made a version that might make sense to winemakers.
Jug wine. Proudly a mass-produced blend. It's not fermented to be fussed over. It's made to be inexpensive. There's only one jug wine. Made for drinking, not having a sommelier dissecting its terroir. People who like to drink our wine are people who like to drink A LOT of our wine. Pressed the hard way. Let them sip their Cabernet Sauvignon Puente Alto Don Melchor 2010. We'll be blending some red wine. This jug's for you.
Twitter rants and blog snark aside, there have been some complicated relationships at play with this ad campaign, most notably coming from inside Anheuser-Busch. Only a few weeks ago, the Belgian-owned behemoth purchased Seattle-based craft brewer Elysian Brewing Co. for an undisclosed sum, adding Elysian to its cadre of acquisitions, including Goose Island Beer Co., 10 Barrel Brewing Co., and Blue Point Brewing Co.
"This is not an attack on craft beer; this is not an attack on competition," Budweiser VP Brian Perkins told AdAge. "The only other beer that we reference in the spot is a fabricated, ludicrous flavor combination of pumpkin peach ale."
That riff on craft beer seemed to seek out and embody the extent of how far from the traditional pilsner American craft beer has come. Unfortunately, someone should have checked what Elysian brews, because the brewery has indeed produced a pumpkin peach beer: Gourdgia on My Mind.
Elysian cofounder Dick Cantwell was not happy.
"I find it kind of incredible that ABI would be so tone-deaf as to pretty directly, even if unwittingly, call out one of the breweries they have recently acquired, even as that brewery is dealing with the anger of the beer community in reaction to the sale," he shared with the Chicago Tribune. "It doesn't make our job any easier, and it certainly doesn't make me feel any better about a deal I didn't even want to happen. It's made a difficult situation even more painful."
Users agreed and took to the social rating app Untappd to voice their dismay, flooding the Gourdgia on My Mind entry with bad reviews and obscene and nonsensical user photos.
Even homebrew supply giant Northern Brewer has put out a five-gallon kit called Peach of Resistance in protest.
Not keen to let a decidedly perfect marketing opportunity go to waste, MillerCoors, arguably the most potent adversary to AB-InBev, fired back over social media declaring that they believed all beers should be fussed over.
We stand for beer pic.twitter.com/uqkAkVZvWo
— MillerCoors (@MillerCoors) February 3, 2015
Due South Brewing Co.'s owner and Florida Brewer's Guild President Mike Halker told New Times that he believes this commercial shows that Budweiser can't compete with the market growth of the craft segment and that it's just "attempt[ing] to hang on to the Bud faithful and keep them from converting to craft."
"They're trying to shine an unflattering light on real beer and real beer drinkers. It's just another example of a big, foreign conglomerate stereotyping Americans. Possibly the most interesting takeaway is the fact that they attacked us at all and spent millions to do it during the Super Bowl. I love that we've become so important to them.
"Also, it's especially ridiculous they chose to use the phrase 'the hard way.' While their brewers are pushing buttons, we're loading thousands of pounds of grain -- not rice, incidentally -- by hand every day. The hard way? I think not."
That "hard way" line jumped out to many brewers, who know just how hard it is to brew beer using limited automation, hand bottling, and sweating through laborious brew days. CNN Money took a tour of Budweiser's St. Louis brewery, and the amount of computerized infrastructure is amazing. Some of the shots look like they could be monitoring a nuclear power station rather than a brewery.
Full disclosure: I drink Bud on occasion. It may be that I'm on a boat and the only other option is Bud Light. But I drink it, and it's really not that bad of a beer. It has its place.
Does one particular style need to take up a majority of the market share? For those of us who enjoy variety, we think no.
So what's the takeaway? To be honest, this Budweiser ad proves that Anheuser-Busch feels it is under threat (it is), losing market share (it is), and in desperate need to cater to a new demographic that isn't entering retirement age.
It just reminds me of this 30 Rock segment. Its purpose is to make you think you want something that you probably don't even want and then to make you feel like an wimp if you don't have it.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.