Don’t Buy Blue Moon!
Photo Credit: By Temarisnow (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or FAL], via Wikimedia Commons
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MillerCoors, the company behind Coors, Miller High Life and Miller 64, wants a little respect for its other, this-one-isn’t-like-the-others stepchild, Blue Moon. Perhaps in a nod to Coors’ frat-boy consumer base, the company message was summed up perfectly in a recent Bloomberg headline: “ Blue Moon tells beer snobs to drink up and show respect.” It’s the kind of line you can imagine a frat brother telling an inductee, right before shoving a beer bong in his mouth and pouring cans of Coors Light into the funnel at the top.
Back in December 2012, the Brewers Association released new standards for breweries to call themselves makers of “craft” beer. They had to be “small,” making no more than 6 million barrels of beer per year; “independent,” meaning that no more than 25 percent of the company is owned by a non-craft beverage industry members; and they had to make beer that qualifies as “traditional,” meaning that it relies on malted barley and not what brewers consider filler ingredients, like corn and rice.
This definition did not suit MillerCoors, whose CEO Tom Long wrote an Op-Ed on CNNin response. “Based on our size,” he wrote, “that definition excluded us, even though we brew some of the most popular craft beers in the marketplace.” Except that they don’t, because Blue Moon is, by definition, not a craft beer – not just because of MillerCoors’ size (it sells 67 billion barrels of beer, compared to the largest craft brewer, Sam Adams, which sells about 2.7 million per year), but also because its so-called craft brand is not independent, as the definition requires. It’s owned by MillerCoors. Ipso facto, not a craft beer.
The craft beer market grew 15 percent in 2012, pulling in more than $10.2 billion. Comparing that rate of growth to the American beer market as a whole, which saw only a 1 percent increase, it’s fairly obvious why MillerCoors wants the world to recognize its Blue Moon brand as “craft”: money. This long-brewing debate has stoked the passions of beer lovers on both sides, with plenty of brewers opposing Blue Moon’s assertions, and some voicing their support. (Daniel Del Grande, founder of Bison Brewing Co. and an adamant beer advocate, told me, “Size doesn’t matter,” and counts Blue Moon as craft.) Long answers the beer’s detractors with a taunt directed at actual craft brewers, “Being small and unpopular, what’s the utility in that?” (There’s a lot of utility in that, actually: According to the Guardian, the environmental impact of a MillerCoors beer is three times as large as the impact of an ale brewed at the pub where it’s served.)
But if you’re a woman, a minority, a union member, an environmentalist or basically anything other than a rich white man with boring taste in beer, then Blue Moon’s non-craft status is one of the last reasons to forgo it – and any other MillerCoors product (here’s the full lineup) – in favor of an actual craft brew.
For one, there’s its marketing: Except when it’s defending Blue Moon’s craft stature, MillerCoors seems to go out of its way to keep their relationship a secret. Nowhere on Blue Moon’s packaging or website will you see any mention of the fact that it’s a MillerCoors brand. It specifically avoids making that connection, practically going out of its way to keep consumers in the dark. For example, according to its website, the company proclaims that “brewing is an art” and lists Keith Villa as its founder; but it neglects to mention that Peter Coors and the MillerCoors company are the patrons, bankrolling not just Villa’s formative trip to Belgium, but the whole company.