Blue Moon is a craft beer now. Budweiser is a craft beer. You’re a craft beer. Everything is craft beer for now.
That’s the de facto ruling from a U.S. District Court now that a class action lawsuit has been dismissed attempting to call out MillerCoors for labeling Blue Moon (which they produce at a rate of over 70 million barrels a year) a craft beer.
Judge Gonzalo Curiel wants a better template for what does and does not constitute a craft beer before he says Blue Moon—or Bud Light Lime, for that matter—can’t allude to itself as being craft brewed in advertising.
This conflict has been long brewing (sorry), as a growing number of small brewers try to distinguish their product from the nameless (and arguably tasteless) products of larger companies. “Craft” was supposed to be the term of endearment, as well as a piece of jargon (like Champagne or “bottled in bond”) that set certain standards of production quality and rarity—standards the big guys have no interest in pursuing if they can avoid it.
Losers of the class action suit include the idea of clear labeling standards, and the Brewers Association, which considers a beer craft only if it (a) “Produce[s] less than 6 million barrels of beer annually; (b) [is] less than 25 percent owned or controlled by a non-craft brewer; and (c) Make[s] beer using only traditional or innovative brewing ingredients.”
The lawsuit, filed in California by lead plaintiff Evan Parent, alleged that Blue Moon was conspicuously over-priced in comparison with the rest of the MillerCoors portfolio, that it does not meet requirements agreed upon by the Brewers association, and that it misleads customers by disguising the ownership.
Judge Curiel denied that last claim, referring to the company’s website where it is clearly labeled. He also rejected a claim that Blue Moon’s grocery store shelf placement (mixed in with all the craft brews) has misleading intent.
This is excellent news for MillerCoors—and for Budweiser, whose hatred for the craft beer world’s success has grown as their own market share has slipped in recent years. The bile toward smaller brewers came to a head in February this year, when a tone-deaf Super Bowl ad benched the puppies and clydesdales for a “middle finger to the critics” approach.
It’s worth mentioning that one of the top comments on that video (which has a 9:1 ratio of dislikes to likes) calls the famous beer “carbonated horse piss.” The commented went on to say “I’ll stick to my local brew, thank you very much.”
That’s the way most people feel. A Wall Street Journal story last winter put Budweiser’s market share at half of what it was a decade ago. That same story put the amount that younger consumers are spending on the craft beer category at one and a half times that over people over 30, meaning that the next generation is far more dedicated to seeking out craft beer to drink.
Without clear labeling to stand behind, the little guys are going to have to find a new way to clear up the confusion among budding beer connoisseurs. The major players: InBev and MillerCoors among them, could effectively place “craft” labels on every product tomorrow morning.
Which isn’t to say the fight is over. Though the initial claim by Parent was rejected, the judge gave him and the other plaintiffs time to rephrase their claim, so there’s still a chance that we could see a legal precedent set eventually.