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What is craft beer and how much should it cost?

For your reading pleasure today:

– Alan at a Good Beer Blog takes some of us to task to for suggesting that some small-batch beer should sell for more. Or put another way: Are Craft Beer Prices Too Low? No, They Are Not Too Low.

Skip my comments (I obviously was just waking up and might have been hung over), be fair and consider Alan’s arguments, but be impressed by the rebuttals from Stephen Beaumont and Lew Bryson.

Also spare yourself a little pain and pass on trying to envision the three of us joining in Kumbaya. Lew can flat out sing, but my voice has been known to shatter glasses (with beer still inside).

– And for those who want to spend less for beer and call it “craft” the Wall Street Journal offers To Trump Small Brewers, Beer Makers Get Crafty.

If you hang out here you should already know that Molson Coors brews Blue Moon White, that Miller owns Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve and Leinekugel’s, that Anheuser-Busch makes Wild Hop Lager, etc. But one of the points of the story is that you wouldn’t learn this reading the beer labels, and that’s a big deal because . . .

Sales of craft beers affiliated with the big three brewers in grocery, drug, convenience and major-market liquor stores surged 45% to $177 million through Aug. 25 against year-earlier levels, excluding sales at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Nielsen found. (Wal-Mart doesn’t supply sales data to Nielsen or any other data-tracking firm.) Sales of independent craft brands rose 16% to $531 million.

The good news seems to be that people are buying beer other than mainstream lagers brewed with adjuncts. The concern is that part of the attraction could be the idea they are crafted by small, independent brewers . . . and they’re not.

“Any brand put into the marketplace with an intentional lack of affiliation with the brewery brewing it, I consider that a faux craft,” says Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Small Brewers Association (and editor at ProBrewer). “It’s intentional deception.”

Does that sound fair to you?

13 Responses to What is craft beer and how much should it cost?

  1. SteveH October 26, 2007 at 10:32 am #

    How much of Leinenkugel does Miller actually own? The last I’d heard, Miller was only brewing the original Leinies and Leinies Light (if that’s still around) at their Milwaukee brewery, and all of the specialty and seasonal styles were still being brewed in Chippewa Falls — that was a while ago, so things could have changed considerably.

    Also, is Leinies really craft? If, as says Lew, it’s all about the beer — Leinies has fallen short in the quality category for a long time now…maybe even since they teamed up with Miller.

  2. Stan Hieronymus October 26, 2007 at 11:03 am #

    Steve – I think most of what they sell still comes from Chippewa Falls, and they control what is brewed in Milwaukee.

    I last had the Creamy Dark two years ago. It seemed to be standing up to me. They brew a lot of beer I simply don’t care about, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t craft.

  3. SteveH October 26, 2007 at 12:19 pm #

    and they control what is brewed in Milwaukee.

    They meaning Miller?

    They brew a lot of beer I simply don’t care about, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t craft.

    The last Creamy Dark I had (probably closer than 2 years ago) was pretty weak — propped up only by some heavily roasted malt that hid the thin body and lack of any real character. I gave the Sunset Wheat a go based on a friend’s recomendation and gave him the 4 leftover bottles — overdone with corriander flavor. Tried the Oktobefest this year to give it one more chance — bleah, thin and watery with no malt character to speak of. I just don’t think of Leinies when I’m thinking of good (craft) beer — even Berghoff is making better beer, in my opinion, and probably selling for less.

  4. Stan Hieronymus October 26, 2007 at 12:24 pm #

    I meant Leiny controls what goes on with its beer made in Milwaukee.

    I hate to ask, but have your tried their “extreme” beers, the Double IPA and Impy Stout. I’ve heard good things about them.

  5. SteveH October 26, 2007 at 12:55 pm #

    I meant Leiny controls what goes on with its beer made in Milwaukee.

    Got it. So back to the original question, how much of Leinie does Miller actually “own?”

    Hate to ask? Afraid I’m gonna rail? Me? 😉

    No, those new ones are pretty limited in their release — and on tap only, right? Budgetary constraints keep me from the bars these days, but yeah — I’ve heard some rumble about them, mostly at BeerAdvocate. If I see them I’d probably give them a chance.

  6. SteveH October 26, 2007 at 1:11 pm #

    “Miller bought Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing in 1988.”

    Man, hard to believe it’s almost been 20 years! But I thought it wasn’t a full-blown buy-out, but that was 19 years ago — what do I know, or remember?

  7. Lew Bryson October 26, 2007 at 3:00 pm #

    Yeah, it’s a full buy-out, and was, and Miller — surprisingly, given their track record with Celis — pretty much gave them access to distribution and capital, and let ’em fly. I do still like Creamy Dark, but will admit the last time I had one was 18 months or so ago. Haven’t had the ‘extreme’ ones, but if they have even 2/3 the guts of the corresponding Saranacs, they’d be worth a try.

    And by the way…you guys know this, but “faux craft” as a term really frickin’ bugs me. I do not think craft brewers do themselves any favors by putting down beers simply because of where they are brewed. I would encourage craft brewers — and us — to spread the word on who makes those beers, because people ought to be buying them on full disclosure: how’s it taste, who makes it, how’s it advertised, how’s it sold, and so on. If people want to buy a beer cuz it’s from a ‘small, independent’ brewery, fine. If they want to buy it based on how it tastes — or the price. Heh. — that’s fine too. Maybe even finer.

  8. Stan Hieronymus October 27, 2007 at 4:02 am #

    Lew – Agreed on all counts.

    I’m pretty sure that the value (though I don’t have a formula for Alan on balancing cost and quality) depends more on how a beer is brewed than where. That makes “craft” a tricky term and “faux craft” treacherous.

  9. Alan October 27, 2007 at 6:17 am #

    Get back there, Stan, whenever you wake up. I have invented a better term for a segment of “faux craft” and am working out a universal theory of the beer continuum.

  10. Stephen Beaumont October 27, 2007 at 6:44 am #

    What’s wrong with “Stealth Beers,” as it appeared years ago in The Celebrator? (Coined, I believe, by the inimitable Mr. Dalldorf to describe the Big Three’s earliest efforts at producing brands aimed at the emerging craft beer marketplace.) It has no derogatory insinuation like “faux” and I think perfectly describes the intent to hide the identity of the brewery behind the brand.

  11. Lew Bryson October 27, 2007 at 9:24 pm #

    So do we call Orlio a “Stealth Beer” then? And what about the A-B beers that don’t say “Bud” “Busch” or “Michelob” on them, but DO have “Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, MO” on them?

    I think A-B and Coors do themselves a disservice by ‘stealthing.’ They should step up and claim their beers, if only from pride. When drinkers do find out that a beer like Blue Moon is a Coors beer, they feel shafted. I’d say they’re half-right; the beer’s okay, but they done got lied to.

  12. Stan Hieronymus October 28, 2007 at 7:48 am #

    They should step up and claim their beers, if only from pride.

    Hallelujah (well, it is Sunday morning).

    I think the A-B brewers would agree. I’ve talked to the guys who developed the recipes for the organic beers and they are proud of them.

    But marketing research found that the people who buy organic products don’t like big companies. Does that mean I side with marketing? Hell, no. This is a chance to get out front and say, “We make damn fine beer.”

    On the other hand, the people who are shopping for gluten-free beer – the people who are putting their health in the hands of the manufacturer – trust A-B. So you see Redbridge promoted as from Anheuser-Busch.

  13. Dave Horton April 20, 2008 at 9:03 am #

    But what about the basic question, What should a craft beer cost? glass/mug? bottle? pitcher? Maybe even a range?

    What does a working class dude in Kansas City Missouri, or GI in Lawton (Ft. Sill) pay for a beer?

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