Tag: Craft Beer Means IPA

How to Effectively Attack the Craft Beer Movement: A Heads Up to Craft Beer

So you wanna take some wind out of the sails of the craft beer movement, huh Big Beer?

Well, before I tell you how to do that, let’s talk about what you don’t do by using the following example as a case study.

ANHEUSER-BOTCH: A PRICEY LESSON IN WHAT NOT TO DO

In an epic display of advertising gaffery during the 2015 Super Bowl, Anheuser-Busch (AB) aired an $8 million, 60-second commercial which simultaneously managed to insult both craft beer culture and Budweiser’s dwindling customer base by suggesting that the former over-thinks beer, thereby implying that the latter is too, what’s the right word, stupid to be critical about how something tastes. (Link to original ad here.)

In fact, Anheuser is banking that its customers are so dumb as to be completely ignorant that the double-talking mega brewery has been snapping up craft breweries over the last several years in an if-you-can’t-beat-‘em,-buy-‘em business strategy in order to cash in on the craft beer movement, a movement that has steadily been eating away at Budweiser’s shrinking profit margins.

Luckily for AB, not everyone saw their $8 million backfiring blunder— only about 120 million people.

Seriously, AB, if you wanted to know how to take the craft beer movement down a peg, you could have just asked me— and it’s not by pitching a MACRO-VS-MICRO change of perception ploy.

Last time I checked, not too many people were rooting for Monsanto to crush organic farmers. [Yes, that was a subtle nod to Genetically Modified rice being found in Budweiser beer.]

THE ART OF BEER WAR

Sun Tzu, the attributed author of the famed Chinese military treaties The Art of War, said “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

If we apply the above principle to Budweiser’s recent shot at craft beer, we might chalk one big point up to craft beer for simply stepping out of the way while Bud proceeded to shoot itself squarely in the foot.

It makes you wonder if the crack advertising team at Budweiser that put together their cliché-ridden anti-craft ad even knew AB owned craft breweries— which of course recalls another Sun Tzu classic:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

So how can Big Beer use Sun Tzu’s principles to their advantage?

First, take a cue from Sun Tzu and Know Thyself.

If you’re saying that you’re embracing craft beer, then embrace craft beer.  In AB’s case, sending a mixed message to its audience about how the brewing giant is both anti and pro craft beer makes Anheuser sound confused at best, and patronizing or hypocritical at worst.  At this point, quite a bit of damage control would need to be done before the public are going to “trust” that AB is into craft beer for the sake of craft beer, and not just as part of their corporate strategy to make up for their steadily declining sales of Budweiser.

Craft Beer Growth Compared to Budweiser

[Chart from the Wall Street Journal; November 23, 2014.]

Or maybe Anheuser is right, and its customer base, like the company, is just too oblivious to notice or care that they’re perceived as dumb-dumbs. I can see the next Bud slogan already: Budweiser-A Beer for Idiots. Because it Takes One to Know One.

Next, understand your enemy (or competition) and use their weakness to your advantage.

At present, I see two areas where Big Beer could exploit the craft beer movement to their own financial benefit:

  1. Overproduction and vague definition of IPA.
  2. Ineffective definition of “craft beer”.

And the best part about these problems (at least as far as Big Beer is concerned), is that the craft beer industry is creating them all by itself!

Of course craft beer enthusiasts probably already see why these two issues are problematic for the craft beer movement, but let’s spell it out.

THE WITTGENSTEIN EFFECT

To paraphrase Ludwig Wittgenstein, the most influential philosopher of the 20th century, the meaning of a word is determined by its use.

So what does this have to do with “IPA” and “craft beer”?

Well, because of the runaway popularity of IPA within the craft beer market over the last 10+ years, the style has become to a large degree representative of craft beer— the poster child of craft beer, if you will.  And because most craft brewers are more than happy to feed into (and profit from) craft beer fans’ insatiable obsession with IPA-anything, the frenzy cycle continues.

Simply slap the letters “IPA” on a tap or bottle, and we will almost mindlessly buy, buy, buy— a fact that Big Beer is getting wise to.

But here’s the rub: the more IPA that is produced both in volume and variety by craft breweries, the greater the likelihood that people may come to use the term “craft beer” to mean “IPA”.  In other words, if the meaning of a word (or term) is determined by its use, and people use the term “craft beer” to mean “IPA”, then “craft beer” will mean “IPA”.

Therefore, if “craft beer” comes to mean “IPA”, then Big Beer does not directly need to use the term “craft beer” in its marketing in order to convey and capitalize from the intended meaning of craft beer.

Now, it might sound crazy that a general term like “craft beer” could come to mean a specific style of beer like “IPA”, but then again a similar thing happened with the word “corn”.

Originally, the term “corn” referred to any type of grain including wheat, oats, etc.  In other words, “corn” was once a general term like the term “craft beer” is today.  But because of the abundance and popularity of “maize” in the U.S., Americans began to call a specific type of grain (maize) “corn”.  And because of the global influence of the U.S., most of the rest of the English-speaking world does now too.

But even if “craft beer” doesn’t come to mean “IPA” in some broad sense as “corn” came to mean “maize”, there is nevertheless such a remarkably strong association between IPA and craft beer, that IPA basically implies craft beer.

And this tacit implication is all Big Beer needs.  But it gets even better… for Big Beer that is.

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

The other problem with IPA, as beer writer Don Russell points out, is that because of all of the divergent permutations of the style, IPA no longer means just India pale ale.  There is DIPA, IPL, IPX, White IPA, Red IPA, Black IPA, Session IPA, single-hop IPA, bitter IPA, fruity IPA, Mango Ginger IPA… you get the idea.

So why not a Bud Light IPA?

As Russell explains:

“What might’ve been a sacrilege just a year ago seems inevitable today. And when it happens, craft beer will have only itself to blame, as Anheuser-Busch Inbev laughs all the way to the bank.”

Unfortunately for craft beer, AB In-Bev won’t be the only one crashing the party.

By this point, you can probably already guess what Big Beer’s next move is.  Well, you don’t really have to guess because it’s already happening.

Big Beer is appropriating the term “IPA” (and its strong connotation of craft beer) and creating mass-produced non-craft beer and profiting from the good name and added value that the craft beer movement has toiled to create.

Ballantine IPA anyone?  Yep, Pabst Brewing Company, the same group that brought you Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, and Colt 45, is stepping into the IPA market.  I know what you’re thinking: it must taste horrible.  Well, the good folks at BeerAdvocate (a popular beer ranking website) don’t seem to think so!  Rated an 87 (Very Good) by the general populous, and 91 (Outstanding) by “The Bros”, it looks like Big Beer is nailing it!

If that doesn’t send chills down craft beer’s spine, how about Anheuser-Busch’s take on the hoppy style with their very own Demon’s Hop Yard IPA— rated a 94 by “The Bros” on BeerAdvocate!!!  Granted, AB probably jumped the gun with their IPA offering and therefore stopped brewing it back in 2006, but now almost a decade later, the time is all but ripe for that demon to possess the beer market once again.

And remember, Big Beer isn’t just after well-informed craft beer drinkers who might know the difference between craft and crafty, yet only represent 7.8% of the overall beer market .  No, Big Beer is also after the other 92.2% of the market which includes those who couldn’t tell you that Shock Top or Blue Moon isn’t craft beer, and those who may be aware of craft beer, but only want to stick their toes in the shallow end of the flavor pool.

For the Budweiser brand in particular, its message is that the current craft beer scene is just too extreme with their peach pumpkin weirdo concoctions.  Budweiser though?  Budweiser is safe.  Familiar.  You don’t have to be a know-it-all beer snob to enjoy our product.   Sure we’ll do an IPA, but it will be an approachable IPA with superior drinkability.  Something we all can enjoy without having to have a PhD in craft beer to understand.  Budweiser: The Craft Beer for Everyone.

At this point in the story, rebel craft beer is in trouble.  Lando has already sold out his friends, C3PO is in pieces, and Han Solo is frozen in carbonite.

There’s just one last piece of bad news before the credits roll.

The very definition of “craft beer” is ineffective.  Search your feelings.  You know it to be true…

Leave you to ponder this until next time I must.  (Sorry.  Had to.)

Cheers for now—and may the craft be with you.


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Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

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Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for BeerSyndicate.com, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Beer Traveler, and Shameless Beer Promoter with a background in Philosophy and Business.

Craft Beer Means IPA: ROUND ONE

CRAFT BEER = IPA

Among the craft beer community, there is a worry that the more that Americans obsess with IPA and its many mutations (DIPA, IPL, Rye IPA, Red IPA, White IPA, Black IPA, Session IPA, etc.), the more the term “IPA” is evolving into just another term for “craft beer”.

You might have sensed signs of this bubbling up here and there over the last few years.  Here are a few possible related misconceptions you may have encountered in passing:

1. If you say you like craft beer, that must mean that you love IPA, and/or your favorite style of beer is IPA.

2. Craft breweries must brew IPA or make it their flagship beer in order to be successful.

3. If you have craft beer on tap, it must include IPA to attract customers.

4. Loving IPA means that you truly understand craft beer and can be accepted as part of the craft beer culture.

5. The U.S. has a reputation for being in-your-face and extreme, and IPA, the Red Bull of beer, embodies that American attitude. In other words, IPA is ‘Merica.

'Merican IPA

Of course if “IPA” is just another term for “craft beer”, you might see how some of above statements would make more sense.

But how did this idea come about and is there any truth to it?  And so what if “IPA” is just another term for “craft beer”?  Is there really any harm to it?

IPA, IPA, & MORE IPA

Without a doubt, IPA in all of its various incarnations has been and currently is very trendy, at least in the U.S.

With approximately 8,522 examples of American IPA currently listed on BeerAdvocate, the data suggest that IPAs are the most commonly produced style of beer by breweries.  For comparison, the next closest commonly brewed style of beer by number of examples is another hoppy style, American Pale Ale with approximately 5,883 examples, followed by American Amber/ Red Ale with 3,596 examples.

While it’s true that the American light lager style of beer is the most widely mass-produced beer on the planet by volume, IPAs still represent the most popular style of “craft beer” brewed by the greatest number of breweries, most of which are in the U.S.  This trend could be seen at the Great American Beer Festival (the world’s largest beer competition) where since 2001, American IPA has been the single most-entered category of beer.

And with certain well-known hop-centric breweries like Green Flash, Lagunitas, Stone and Sierra Nevada expanding and opening up brewing operations on the east coast presumably in order to offer the freshest hop-tastic experience to the consumer, the volume of IPA being brewed is also increasing, thereby increasing the chances that “craft beer” will be even more strongly associated with “IPA”.

Not to mention, with Stone Brewing Co. scheduled to open a new brewery in Berlin, Germany and producing many of their hop-forward brews for which they’re known, much of Europe will soon have an opportunity to associate “American craft beer” with IPA, or aggressively hopped beer of some type.

Did I mention that there’s even an official IPA Day (August 7)?  Give it a few years and maybe IPA will buy-out the 4th of July.

So we have some reason to believe that IPA is popular at least in the U.S.  And if IPA is popular and in demand, it would make sense for a brewery to brew it and a bar to have it on tap.  It even makes sense that IPA is associated with America (U.S.).

But how could it be that someone might make the leap in logic that “IPA” is what people mean when they say “craft beer”?

A BITTER CATEGORY-MISTAKE

Thought experiment time.

Imagine that there’s a person in the U.S., let’s call him Joe, and Joe has only drank or has only been exposed to light lager— think Budweiser, Miller, or Coors (BMC).  Joe doesn’t know that what he’s been drinking up to this point is called “light lager”, and he is not aware that there are any other types of beer other that BMC, or beers that are very similar like Schlitz, Pabst, Michelob, Keystone, Labatt, Molson, Milwaukee’s Best, Yuengling, etc.

Because Joe does not know that BMC are making the same style of beer (American light lager), Joe only knows to call what he’s been drinking “beer” and that there are different brands that make a very similar product.  So from Joe’s point of view, beer (light lager) is what beer tastes like, and anything that is not like light lager therefore does not taste like “beer” and, by extension, is not beer.

Now imagine Joe walks into a restaurant or bar and asks what beer is available on tap.  The bartender’s response goes something like this: “Well, we have domestic beer like Bud, Bud Light, and also craft beer like IPA.”  Given the popularity of IPA in the U.S., there is a good chance IPA would be on draft.  Joe orders the IPA, takes a sip, and begins to create a new mental category for beer: regular beer and craft beer, or craft beer and not craft beer.  “Craft beer” is bitter and strongly flavored, while regular or “not craft beer” is light, watery and fizzy.

Now picture this phenomenon occurring so much so that “IPA” becomes synonymous with “craft beer”.

If it’s difficult to imagine such a person as Joe existing in the U.S. given the recent increase in the variety of beer, imagine such a person in another part of the world where craft beer is not readily accessible and a similar situation taking place.

The point is this: as people, we tend to categorize in order to better understand the world.  In the case in question, something has gone wrong because when a person should recognize that “IPA” is just one style of “craft beer”, they instead understand “IPA” to mean “craft beer”.  This type of phenomenon is what philosophers refer to as a “category-mistake”, and happens more than we might think.

As a personal example, the first time I sampled someone’s homebrewed beer many years ago, I made the mistake of thinking that “homebrew” was a category or style of beer on par with light lager or stout.  At that time, I was only familiar with light beer and dark beer, and therefore these were the only two categories which existed in my mind to understand the world of beer.

Once I tried a homebrew, I created a new mental category of beer so now there were three types of beer: dark beer, light beer, and homebrew.   By the way, the homebrew I sampled was an example of a Strong Scotch Ale (a malty Scottish style of beer), so whenever I had a malty beer for a while after that, I would say that it tasted like homebrew.

The mistake I made was not realizing that “homebrew” was not a style of beer, but that homebrew, like home cooking, simply means a beer of any style, be it light lager, stout, etc., that is made at home.  The other problem was that I didn’t realize there were any other styles of beer except dark and light beer.  This might sound silly to modern day craft beer fans who are familiar with the different styles of beer, but if someone is not introduced to how beer is formally categorized, most notably the BJCP Style Guidelines, then one begins to create their own framework in their mind.

IN DEFENSE OF JOE

If you feel like there was something missing from the account above of how the term “craft beer” could mistakenly be equivocated with “IPA”, there was.

It stands to reason that Joe would have a capacity to incorporate different varieties of beer into his mental framework from the fact that there are different brands, namely Bud, Miller, and Coors, and he might even be able point out subtle flavor nuances between the brands.

In addition, if Joe had been drinking beer in the U.S. sometime after 1972, there would be an increased likelihood of him becoming aware that there was a standard American lager like Miller Genuine Draft, and then a lighter version called Miller Lite.  [Miller introduced Miller Lite in 1973, Coors Light was created in 1978, and Bud Light came out in 1982.]  So not only would Joe potentially have categories for the different brands, he may also have categories for “regular beer” and “light beer”.

But this alone would not necessarily prevent Joe from equivocating “IPA” with “craft beer”.

Even so, is it really reasonable to believe that a person like Joe exists in the U.S. nowadays? 

I don’t think so.

In order to break down the argument that Joe has no idea that “craft beer” is equivalent to “IPA”, we would just need to show that chances are that Joe has encountered at least two different styles of beer produced by any craft brewery.

If Joe has been out and about in the last 20 years in the U.S., there’s a strong likelihood that he’s come into contact with other forms of “craft beer” than merely IPA.  For example, if Joe has walked down the beer aisle of the grocery store in the last decade or so, he’s probably noticed a wider selection of beer on the shelves than just BMC or other light lager, even if he doesn’t know the term “craft beer”.

But is it reasonable to think that Joe hasn’t heard of the term “craft beer” or “IPA”, given their popularity?  Not really. In fact, he’s probably come across a sign in the supermarket or liquor store that read “craft beer” with a variety of single bottles of different brands and styles to choose from.

And with the boom of craft beer came an increase in craft breweries.  If Joe has ever visited a craft brewery in the last 20 years, he would have most likely been introduced to a variety of craft beer, not just IPA.

The fear that the term “craft beer” currently means or will come to mean IPA is not likely given the current variety within the craft beer market.  While it is true that the less someone is exposed to different styles of beer, the fewer categories of beer she may have in her mind, this does not mean that people will automatically take craft beer to mean IPA.  Even if in the future all craft breweries brewed only IPA (which seems unlikely, but then again, who thought the Prohibition would ever happen), as long as people remember or have knowledge of other styles of beer, craft beer would not come to mean IPA.

But remember, the worry that “IPA” is evolving to mean “craft beer” isn’t being generated by people like Joe; it’s being generated by obsessed, hop-crazed, craft beer fans who have an unquenchable thirst for the IBU-laden brew.  And in this case, perhaps a worry is justified and warrants some attention.

Alas, all of this writing has made me thirsty something fierce.  Luckily, I know just what would hit the spot: a super hoppy, full-flavored bottle of… craft beer.

Cheers!


Like this blog?  Well, thanks- you’re far too kind.  

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Want to read more beer inspired thoughts?  Come back any time, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter:

Or feel free to drop me a line at: dan@beersyndicate.com

Hi, I’m Dan: Beer Editor for Beer Syndicate, Beer and Drinking Blogger, Gold Medal-Winning Homebrewer, Beer Reviewer, AHA Member, Beer Judge, Shameless Beer Promoter, and Beer Traveler.  Interests? Beer.

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