THE BLOG

The Business of Beer: What Does Light Lager Stand for?

02/26/2015 12:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

We beer lovers are lucky to be living through a juncture of historic proportions in the U.S. beer scene. The tastes of individual beer appreciators are evolving. Small and independent craft brewers are rising to dominate the local level. And among large global brewers, we're seeing both diversification as well as acquisitions and buy-outs. The recent Super Bowl ad by Anheuser-Busch InBev shed light on one large brewer's take on these changing times when the brand decided to embrace being "macro"--aka large.

The "Brewed The Hard Way" ad has generated more fodder for the mass media machine than any other beer ad I've seen since becoming craft beer program director at the Brewers Association (publishers of CraftBeer.com) in 2007. The ad has caused quite a stir among beer lovers and craft brewers, too. As of February 24, it had 11 million views on YouTube--with 8,845 dislikes compared to 1,340 likes. A few bars were so upset, they removed the iconic Budweiser brand from draught lists.

This is definitely something to muse about! Here are some lines from the ad that have provoked the strongest reactions:

  • PROUDLY A MACRO BEER
  • IT'S NOT BREWED TO BE FUSSED OVER
  • IT'S BREWED FOR DRINKING, NOT DISSECTING
  • LET THEM SIP THEIR PUMPKIN PEACH ALE

Craft brewers don't have Super Bowl ads, but they do have skin in the game and they too have a very wide variety of light lager brands. Plus they have the Internet. Ninkasi Brewery, out of Oregon, made a parody video called "Brewed the Easy Way?", which has gotten almost 170,000 views to date. Abita Brewery in Louisiana made a counter-video titled "This Is Our Craft", claiming: "We don't make one-size-fits-all beer." These two videos give you just a small taste of what's brewing. Even MillerCoors, maker of several of the top-selling lagers in the U.S., quickly retorted in a tweet: "We believe each and every style of beer is worth fussing over."

Oy vey. Now that the dust has settled, I think a fair question to ask is: What does light lager stand for, anyway?

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A Shift in the Way Americans Enjoy Beer

Fewer and fewer people are proving to be loyal fans of some of the biggest brands behind the style. The Wall Street Journal documented the shift in a November 2014 headline: "Budweiser Crowded Out by Craft Beer Craze". What was once a 50-million-barrel brand of beer in 1988 is now 16 million barrel brand in 2013, with the group of small and independent craft brewers now collectively producing more beer. Things are definitely changing.

For example, India pale ale (IPA) remains the most-favored craft beer style, and it has been the most-entered category at the Great American Beer Festival® every year since 2002.

And the people who drink craft beer are a very diverse and discerning group. According to Nielsen research, 32 percent of craft beer fans are women. 22 percent of beer appreciators make less than $50,000 a year (based on household income), and another 40 percent make less than $75,000. 38 percent are 21-34 years old. Recognize yourselves in that mix?

In today's evolving marketplace, many discerning and locally-minded beer lovers are demanding more from every beer that touches the tips of their thirsty tongues. Based on Internet comments, it's clear that many craft beer lovers demand brewers who know how to keep it real, be transparent, stay true to their fans, be inclusive, avoid gender-specific marketing, and make each brand a beacon for good in the local community. Plus the beers must be flavorful and unique to be worthy of support.

It should be interesting to see where the "macro" and "micro" brands of America's iconic beer scene go in the future. Light lager will have to coexist alongside the hundreds of U.S. beer styles, and beer fans will continue to thirst for brands that resonate with their own values. Loyalty and sales will be earned by those brewers that best mirror the ideals of American beer lovers.

Julia Herz, Publisher of CraftBeer.com and Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, is a homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone®. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer. Follow her on Twitter @herzmuses.