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Brewed the hard way: Budweiser's beef with craft beer

By Walden Pemantle, Thresher Staff     2/11/15 4:08am

Among ads of cute puppies, human Pac-Man games and stampeding Clydesdales, Budweiser aired a new commercial during the Super Bowl proudly titled “Brewed the Hard Way.” The ad heralds Budweiser as “proudly a macro beer … not to be fussed over.” Bud drinkers are juxtaposed with glasses-wearing mustachioed men, who represent Budweiser’s take on microbrewed beer’s finicky hipster crowd. The ad continues by stating that Bud is “brewed for drinking, not dissecting,” and shows yet more hipsters before finally proclaiming, “Let them drink their pumpkin peach ale, we’ll be brewing us some golden suds.”

The ad is a direct smear on microbrewing and craft beer’s surging popularity, and it doesn’t come from a struggling brewer desperate for sales, but from the producer of America’s most popular light and regular beer. So why pick on the little guys? It doesn’t take an analyst to see how the craft beer revolution has transformed our country’s markets. Just like California put American wine on the map, microbrews have completely changed the perception of American beer. Once loathed for its cold fermentation and use of corn to add alcohol content without flavor, American beers are now every bit as lauded as the historic beers from Germany, Holland and Belgium, and not without reason. American brewers have pioneered the malting and fermenting techniques that created some of the world’s toastiest porters, creamiest milk stouts and most aromatic pale ales. 

Other beer giants like Samuel Adams have used the craft beer trend to their advantage. A 2014 commercial for their beer asks people off the street how many styles of beer Sam Adams brews in a year. The people in the ad, one of whom is also a mustachioed, glasses-wearing hipster, reliably named four or five beers before exhibiting shock at the 60 different brews that Sam Adams makes in a year. It’s a commercial that celebrates the ability of serious American brewers and the diversity of their beers. It sends a message that Sam Adams supports them, even if its main source profit is its “macro” Boston lager. Instead, Budweiser offers its viewers a message that there can be only one way of making good beer, and if they don’t agree, they must be pretentious. 

Perhaps the oddest factor in Budweiser’s choice to run a $9 million Super Bowl ad slamming craft beer is that, in many ways, Budweiser also supports craft beers and microbrews. Anheuser-Bush, the owner of Budweiser and all its breweries, also owns 10 different small craft beer breweries. Widmer Brothers, which merged with Redhook Brewing as part of the Budweiser-owned Craft Beer Alliance in 2012, has released over 65 types of beer, most of which are limited-release microbrews. Elysian Brewing Company, acquired by Budweiser in January 2015, ironically makes a pecan peach pumpkin ale of the exact sort that Budweiser’s ad claims is fundamentally incompatible with the type of people who like Budweiser.

So Budweiser: Why the posturing? As a company that already has the largest share of its U.S. market and is managing to profit off the craft beer boom anyway, isn’t slamming the hard work and popularity of talented microbrewers kind of biting the hand that feeds? Budweiser has always run ads that play to its strengths as a straightforward everyman’s beer. But stabs like “[Budweiser] is brewed for drinking, not dissecting. The people who drink our beer are people who like to drink beer brewed the hard way” don’t seem to sell anything. They make Budweiser seem tasteless, people who care about taste snobbish and beers that aim for a more complex flavor tedious. It’s fine if Budweiser doesn’t want to invest in brewing lines of more flavorful complex beers like Sam Adams, but it could at least leave those who do care about improving taste well enough alone.

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