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Craft beer and the necessity of remaining dynamic

Sorry. The conversation about what is craft beer just won’t go away, and Blue Moon Belgian White often ends up in there somewhere.

But, dang it, Dave Bailey (HardKnott Dave) proves there is still something new to be said when he asks “Is Blue Moon craft?” He walks us through a definition, examining if and how Blue Moon meets particular criteria.

A couple of weeks ago a brewer who used to work for a very large brewing company and now has started a very small one said, “Blue Moon might be the most important craft beer there’s been.” Read “Is Blue Moon craft?” and you’ll understand why.

In the half dozen years since I asked “Blue Moon: Peter, Paul & Mary or Trini Lopez?” craft beer sales have just about doubled (as have Blue Moon sales, in case you don’t consider them one in the same). I’m not sure how many million new drinkers that translates to, but a lot. Dave recognizes they’ve come for something new and leads us to a conclusion that’s been drawn before, but not as succinctly.

Of course, like many things that are new, it will one day be old. It might gain big market saturation. But then, many brands that we now might consider craft will in turn suffer this once they gain widespread acceptance.

This last point is important. The criteria create a sector which by definition must remain dynamic. Reinvention and a need to innovate and react is essential. A point that is not made explicit, but is inextricably implicit.

I’m a fan of reinvention and innovation. But given that I was once new, that now that I am old, and also that I like beers that are no longer new, I’m not sure I find this last thought all that cheery.

Blue Moon: Peter, Paul & Mary or Trini Lopez?

Peter, Paul & MaryHad Coors Blue Moon White been a folk artist in the 1960s would it have been Peter, Paul & Mary?

Wait, before you flip the dial, consider these alternative questions:

– Was the group P,P&M more like Pete Seeger or Trini Lopez?

– Is Blue Moon White more like a so-called craft beer or mass market beer?

Among the teens I went to school with in the ’60s the argument about just how “authentic” Peter, Paul & Mary was invoked far more passion than any one about “authentic” and “craft” beer. In one camp you had the “Dylan wrote Blowin’ in the Wind and Pete Seeger wrote If I Had a Hammer and those are the guys that have the right to sing them.”

In the other you had the “P,P&M sound as good as The Weavers, they are singing great songs and they are what we want to sound like around the campfire. They are miles better than Trini Lopez (who also sang If I Had a Hammer).”

History sorted this out for us. The group was at the 1963 civil rights march on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King made his “I Have a Dream Speech” and its members spent the next 40-plus years (sometime together, sometimes on their own) on the right side of causes. In fact, they turned out to be more political than Dylan.

They wrote excellent songs of their own, but just as importantly generously helped promote many other songwriters. They sounded prettier than Dylan singing Blowin’ in the Wind, but that allowed them to broadcast a political messages to far larger audiences than the Weavers every reached.

I don’t mean to equate a lowly beer with the politics of the 1960s, but my friends who labeled P,P&M the equivalent of Trini Lopez were wrong. Will those who dismiss Blue Moon as a craft wannabe be just as wrong?

I’m not saying it’s my first choice of beers when it comes to those inspired by Pierre Celis – or even my first choice at Coors Field, where White is still brewed to the original recipe in the SandLot Brewery. I’d rather be drinking one of the all-grain lagers there.

But if you based your investment decisions on my tastes you’d have been dirt poor long ago. Instead recognize that tons of drinkers prefer Blue Moon to just about any so-called craft beer – and would likely describe it as craft when ordering it.

Earlier today the Brewers Association announced that craft beer sales are still rockin’. But the numbers aren’t as impressive as the Associated Press reported in conversation with Coors’ Keith Villa, the guy who created Blue Moon White.

Blue Moon sales were up 79% in 2005 and more than 100% in 2006. A couple months ago at the National Homebrewers Conference, Villa said: “We’re closing in on Sierra Nevada (meaning the Pale Ale as a single brands) and next year we should get close to Sam Adams (Boston Lager, the brand).”

The Brew Blog, meanwhile, has tossed out the possibility of a Blue Moon light beer, called Pale Moon or Pale Moon Light. This could also be the Chardonnay Blonde that won a medal last year at the Great American Beer Festival, which isn’t “light” in any traditional sense.

Villa promised that beer, which includes Chardonnay grape juice on top of a wheat base and checks in at 7.1% abv, will be back at GABF this year.

I’m not looking to turn this into a conversation about if Blue Moon White is a craft, genuine or authentic. We’re not settling that one. Just read the interview with Villa, or at least this much:

Q: What has allowed Molson Coors to build this craft-style brand without reinforcing the beer’s connection to a large brewing company?

A: The first thing really comes back to the taste and the quality. The second thing is the credentials. I have a doctorate in brewing from Belgium. So it’s not like a group of American brewers got together and did some consumer research and found the best recipe and then developed that. This is right from the ground-up.

Perhaps not Dylan, certainly not Seeger, but maybe Peter, Paul & Mary.

Blue Moon labeling revisited

The things you come across when looking for something else . . .

In this case a “diary entry” from 1996, when we were doing a little field research for Beer Travelers projects:

Ephrata, Pa., April 19
The walls of Wahtney’s Inn are fieldstones, and some of the floor and ceiling are from when an inn was first built here in 1767. Meanwhile, there’s a computer terminal in the middle of the bar so patrons can cruise the Internet. It’s new and not working today. The bar has Blue Moon beer on tap, and after the bartender draws a pint for a customer, we ask her if she knows which brewery produces the beer. She’s stunned to find out this is a Coors product; because of political reasons, she doesn’t drink Coors. “Thank goodness I’ve only had a small taste,” she says, thanking us for the information. Next time somebody tells you that truth in labeling doesn’t make a difference, remember her.

Blue Moon has done pretty well the last 10 years based on what’s inside the bottle. Although Coors doesn’t heap advertising dollars on Blue Moon, it sold 200,000 barrels of the brand in 2005. Among craft brands, only Sam Adams Boston Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and New Belgium Fat Tire were more popular.

It’s what’s outside the bottle that is troubling. As carefully as you look at a Blue Moon bottle, 6-pack holder or 12-pack box you won’t find information that Coors brews the beer.

Back in 2000, Coors agreed to change the labels on cans and bottles of Blue Moon to settle a lawsuit filed by Belgian brewers. The lawsuit, filed by the Confederation of Belgian Breweries November 1999, alleged the packaging on Coors’ Belgian-style beer led drinkers to believe it was brewed in Belgium.

So now they made it clear that Blue Moon is brewed in the the United States (the label would lead you to believe Denver), but not who the brewer is.

Shouldn’t they do that?

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