Hop-Ed: Craft Beer’s Backlash Against Budweiser

Left Hand Brewing's response to Budweiser during Super Bowl 50 (screenshot via Twitter).
Written by Alex Wilking

By Alex Wilking
BU News Service

The Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers kept the stakes high during last week’s Super Bowl. But for U.S. craft brewers, the turning point of the night happened after the game.

“I’m going to drink a lot of Budweiser tonight, I can promise you that,” Peyton Manning roared during his victory speech. Budweiser said they didn’t pay Manning to endorse them.

Regardless, the spontaneous publicity upset quite a few breweries, who quickly took to social media to voice their frustration. Here are a few notable responses from Stone BrewingLeft Hand Brewing CoNew Belgium Brewing and Rogue Ales & Spirits.

A screenshot of what Stone Brewing posted on Instagram minutes after Budweiser ran their ad during this year's Super Bowl.

A screenshot of what Stone Brewing posted on Instagram minutes after Budweiser ran their ad during this year’s Super Bowl.

Their spite is understandable — Budweiser is the epitome of domestic macro beer, as they often acknowledge in their own ads. It may not be the seasoned beer drinker’s first (or fourth) choice, but the hope was that a superstar like Manning would have more sophisticated tastes, given the spectrum his status lets him choose from. But Peyton’s endorsement wasn’t the only shot at craft brewers during Super Bowl 50. Check out this Budweiser commercial that played near the end of the game:

(It’s worth noting that Budweiser ran another commercial just minutes after the controversial ad above. The second ad focused on the importance of not drinking and driving, a smart move that might have calmed some furious viewers down.)

It came out afterward that Manning’s motives for plugging Budweiser possibly stem from a “small stake” he has in the company, according to Business Insider. Which might not come as much of a surprise, since the NFL bans players from endorsing any forms of alcohol to begin with. Hey, it seemed like a preemptive retirement move.

Funny enough, this isn’t even the first time Budweiser has provoked the craft beer industry during the Super Bowl. This ad from last year’s game raised a collective outcry, with most viewers taking the time to complain as well (see the “like” bar):

It’s baffling that Budweiser’s advertising plan is to just put everyone else on blast. They flaunt that they’re made in the USA and “brewed the hard way” (whatever that means) like it’s an honor limited only to them. Or that craft brewers “fussing over” and “dissecting” their beer is at all a negative thing to the consumer. And is patriotism a by-product of Bud Light? If it is, I can’t taste it.

For a company that seems so outspoken in their disdain for craft breweries, Anheuser-Busch sure owns a lot of them — Goose Island and Shock Top sold the majority stake of their companies to this brewing hypergiant. Kona Brewing and Red Hook also aren’t considered craft beer because Anheuser-Busch owns a third of their business. Oh, and that “pumpkin peach ale” they mock in their ad is made by Elysian Brewing, a small brewery Anheuser-Busch bought out just weeks before airing the commercial. Anheuser-Busch’s overarching conglomerate, AB-InBev, aren’t even domestic themselves — they’re based in Belgium.

But U.S. craft brewers have responded to these attacks with grace. After hearing Manning’s remarks after Super Bowl 50, the Brewers Association sent him a care package full of craft beer, on the off-chance he might change his drinking habits. The bundle contained staples like Samuel Adam’s “Boston Lager,” Bear Republic’s “Racer 5 IPA” and Left Hand Brewing’s “Sawtooth Ale Nitro.” Left Hand actually sent its own exclusive package to Manning with the subject line, “Omaha.”

The American craft beer revolution has done anything but slow in the past few years, and Budweiser might finally be showing signs of collapse. The company’s mammoth sales and production have continued to sink year after year, with sales dropping 10 million barrels between 2007-2014. In what seems like desperation, AB-InBev has just buying out craft breweries that pose competition. Heineken started doing the same last September in the wake of sour sales, purchasing a 50 percent stake in Lagunitas Brewery.

What does all of this mean? It means craft beer is winning. Well, unless big beer just buy everything up. Two of the largest craft breweries in the states — Stone and New Belgium — have made strong statements condemning the possibility of being bought out, so we’re moving in the right direction. I’m not anti-macro by any means, but with all of the above in mind, it seems quality is finally beginning to oust simplicity.

Update: This article incorrectly stated the shares Anheuser-Busch owns in Magic Hat, Kona and Red Hook.

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