beer column

Everyone knows that I'm a big fan of craft beer.  I extol the virtues of the local craft beer community and of drinking locally brewed beers at every opportunity, including on CBC Radio's On the Coast every second week.  

But what about the other part of the beer industry, big beer, and how they’re using some questionable tactics to entice unwitting consumers?

I have nothing against beer makers making and selling beer, be they large or small.  And I have no issues with people drinking beer they enjoy, whether its craft or macro.
As a big fan of craft beer, though, I do like to make sure macro beer drinkers have been introduced to craft beer so they can make an educated decision when choosing the beers they drink!
And I think that beer makers should be honest about the beers they’re making.  Unless you pay a lot of attention to the fine print and do your research, it is very easy to be taken in by shadow brands and crafty beers.

Shadow brands and crafty beers are those that are owned by another brewery but made to appear to be locally brewed craft beers.  Sometimes these are new brands created by breweries, and sometimes these are craft breweries bought out by the Anheuser Busch Inbev monstrosity and then brewed at their worldwide facilities rather than locally at the former craft brewery site.

And what’s the big deal about that?

Nothing, if you know that’s where your beer is being brewed and who owns the brewery.  

I think it IS a big deal when there’s trickery afoot, though.  Does everyone know that Granville Island Brewing is owned by MolsonCoors and Stanley Park Brewing is owned by AB InBev?  Those facts certainly aren’t proudly announced on their labels.
What about Shocktop and Blue Moon?  All their advertising would lead you to believe that they are craft breweries.  But they’re not, they’re just brands owned by AB InBev and MolsonCoors respectively.
I guess it’s buyer beware though, and if you care about who is making your beer and where, you’ll educate yourself.  Unfortunately it’s not that easy to do.  Just reading labels on the beers won’t necessarily tell you who brews the beer.  And some ownership models are very confusing.  Granville Island Brewing was purchased by MolsonCoors through Creemore Springs.  Stanley Park Brewing is actually made by Turning Point Brewing, which was owned by the Mark Anthony Group, which has since been purchased by AB InBev.  But nowhere that I could see on the Stanley Park Brewing website does it mention being owned by anyone else.  Turning Point Brewing Company doesn’t even have a website and the Mark Anthony website doesn’t mention Stanley Park Brewing as one of its products.  So how is anyone supposed to figure out who brews their beer?

AB Inbev is insinuating itself into all the corners of the beer industry. For example, a subsidiary of AB Inbev called ZX Ventures bought a minority stake in the formerly independent beer rating site Without telling anyone for eight months! A website that people have come to know as a place where they can get an honest unbiased opinion about beers was partially bought out by a stakeholder. ZX says it acquired RateBeer in order to get insight on the beer market – to have their “finger on the pulse”. RateBeer is not the only beer rating website out there, but it is one of the top two and craft brewers are worried that beer rankings on the site will become biased. RateBeer majority owner Joe Tucker says that the computational methods used to rate the beers won’t change and that there’s data transparency to ensure it doesn’t. That’s not enough for some craft brewers. Several breweries have demanded that the site remove their beers, including Dogfish Head, whose owner, Sam Calagione, said: "We believe this is a direct violation of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics and a blatant conflict of interest." and "It just doesn’t seem right for a brewer of any kind to be in a position to potentially manipulate what consumers are hearing and saying about beers, how they are rated and which ones are receiving extra publicity on what might appear to be a legitimate, 100 percent user-generated platform."

According to, ZX has also purchased a controlling share in Northern Brewer, the leading online homebrewing supply platform, which is now promoting recipes from AB InBev’s High End brands like Goose Island and Elysian.  And AB InBev has partnered with Conde Nast to launch a beer publication called October.  October will include beer ratings, but claims it will exist as an independent editorial property.

With their enormous buying power, the AB InBev monopoly owns a great many hop and grain growing farms.  In fact, they own pretty much all of the hops grown in South Africa.  In the past portions of the crops were purchased by independent breweries around the world.  Not this year though.  Citing poor yields AB InBev are keeping all of the South African hops for their own breweries.  Anyone else who has a recipe that depends on South African hops is just plain out of luck.  They’ll have to try to find a substitute, or change the recipe.  And with everyone else except for AB InBev in the same boat, the price of those substitutes is bound to rise.

AB InBev owns the breweries, it owns the distribution chains, it owns the coolers in liquor stores in some States, ensuring only their products can be sold chilled, it owns the ingredients necessary to make the beer, it owns part of a beer rating website and magazine... Each of these pieces of the monopoly may not seem like a big deal, but when taken as a whole, they are a threat to the independence of beer.

So, there you have it.  As a fan of craft beer, you can see why I neeeeed you to know whose beer you're drinking and what your money is supporting.  And yes, I'd rather you didn't support AB InBev by buying their products, but now you know, make your own choices!

[Full disclosure:  I get invited out by lots of AB InBev and MolsonCoors owned breweries to fun parties, and they send me free beer and swag.  I totally go to the parties and accept the swag.  I even Instagram about it.  But I don't spend any of my hard-earned cash buying their products.  In the past I have made some of their subsidiaries' products my "beer picks".  I won't be doing that any more.  It may be arbitrary, but that's my line in the sand.  Draw yours wherever you need to.]

Beer Picks:

Some nice local craft beers!

Hearthstone Brewing Wyld Raspberry Berliner Weisse – so light and refreshing for summer!  This wheat beer is a mere 3.2% for your ease of enjoyment!  Brewed with wild lactobacillus bacteria and 200lbs of local, whole raspberries, it’s pink and it’s tart!
Available in six packs of cans at the liquor store and on tap at the North Vancouver tasting room.

Strange Fellows El Jefe Bavarian Style Wheat Beer – Banana and cloves – it must be a hefeweisen!  The yeast culture comes all the way from Germany, bringing some old world street cred to this new world summery beer.  Fruity, spicy and cloudy.
4.5%  Available on tap at the tasting room

Moody Ales Sublime Pineapple Hefeweisen – because summer is the time for hefeweisen!  German yeast meets American hops meets pineapple juice.  It’s sessionable, fruity and refreshing.
4.8%  Available at the liquor store in 650ml bottles and on tap at the tasting room

And finally:

I’d like to bid a fond farewell to the outgoing brewers at the Callister collaborative brewery:  Lightheart, Boombox and Real Cask – good luck in your future endeavours and keep making us beer!  

And welcome to the new brewers Night Owl and Morningstar!  I’m looking forward to trying your beers!

Some links:


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