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Unraveling the biggest train wreck the beer industry has seen in years. What can we learn?

Read time = 4 min.

Just Tapped

It’s a weird week for beer news. At this very moment, the Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) is wrapping up in Nashville and the event has spun off a lot of news, which we are busily digesting. We’ll likely address some of it next week. In the meantime…

Lessons learned from the biggest trainwreck in recent memory

For weeks, we’ve ignored the most obvious story — the 800-pound gorilla — because we didn’t see anything that the craft beer world could learn from the debacle. Now we do. We admit this isn’t so much about the news as it is the takeaway. Also, we love to poke fun at the big beer companies.

You likely don’t need a recap of the whole thing. (If you do, just google the term Bud Light.) This is not any kind of commentary on anything but the beer business aspect of the boycott kerfuffle. The latest episode in the Bud Light saga really brings it full circle. Recent reports told the story of gay bars in Chicago that decided to no longer sell any AB-InBev products. They, and many other like-minded individuals and businesses, are upset with the way AB-InBev caved in, scapegoated certain executives, and tried to backpedal. In the stated opinion of one bar owner, the response to the boycott provided a platform for hateful and ignorant voices.

In other words, the people who actually applauded the company for reaching out to Dylan Mulvaney now hate Bud Light too.

The way Anheuser-Busch, which is basically a marketing and PR firm that happens to make beer, handled the entire situation is really quite stunning. It shows a remarkable lack of awareness.

“You have one fact and every person puts an opinion behind the fact. And then the opinions start to be replicated fast on each and every comment. By the time that 10 or 20 people put a comment out there, the reality is no longer what the fact is, but is more (about) what the comments were.” - Michel Doukeris, CEO of Anheuser-Busch.

Um, duh? The statement above expresses a staggering lack of awareness. Like, Doukeris is pointing out that the marketing department at Bud Light just learned something that every 9th grader in America already knows.

“We will always be at the table when important topics are debated, but the beer itself should not be the focus of the debate," said Doukeris.

Again, a stunning lack of awareness. These days, it seems that everything is the focus of the debate. The car you drive, the sports you watch on TV, the restroom you choose to use at school, and the beer you drink. Nearly everything is part of some debate in our increasingly divisive society. I mean, they did realize that making custom Bud Light cans to celebrate Mulvaney’s transition would piss off a portion of the core Bud Light fan base, right? Another “um, duh” moment.

Enough poking fun at the beer behemoth. What can we learn? What can we take away? Exactly how did AB-InBev screw this one up so badly? Well, that would make an interesting book. Simply put, at the absolute heart of the matter, the company’s initial decision to create those custom cans, and thereby celebrate that moment with Mulvaney, was not authentic.

If the company authentically believed in what it was doing, it wouldn’t have worried about the slings and arrows. Instead, Bud Light viewed Mulvaney and her millions of social media followers as a marketing opportunity. There was no real connection. Given the way the company dealt with the fallout, you cannot blame the LGBTQ+ community, and especially trans people, for thinking of the initial action as a kind of appropriation.

In our increasingly divisive world, whatever you choose to stand up for, you better authentically believe in it and you better be willing to back it up. We aren’t saying that you should avoid attaching your name to things and causes in which you truly believe, just don’t attach your name, your brand, or your identity to things just because it seems like a good marketing opportunity. These days, consumers see right through that. It could blow up in your face. Just ask Bud Light.

Given the nature of this week’s topic, we fully expect a lot of feedback. The Taster Tray has now said what we said and we stand by it.

Around the Web

  • This week a new organization used the Craft Brewers Conference as an opportunity to introduce itself. Introducing the National Black Brewers Association (NB2A). Story by Washington Beer Blog.

  • A company in Japan has introduced a new kind of beer can. It has two opening tabs on the lid and is designed to produce better head, less foam. Story by Food & Wine.

  • The Brewers Association announced the winners of the 2023 World Beer Cup. You can see who won and also get more details about the competition here. 


Last week someone commented...

“Great content, but get rid of the awful animated gifs!” - jdelapp@...

Heard. We are still pretty new at the newsletter thing. We’ve been told by people that call themselves experts that we should include animated gifs, regardless of our personal opinion about animated gifs. Honestly, we’ve wondered why. So, thanks to jdelapp, we will put that practice on pause. If you agree or disagree with jdelapp, we’d love to hear from you.

This week's Taster Tray was composed by Kendall Jones.