The MillerCoors-produced Blue Moon Belgian White Ale is by far the best-selling non-lager beer in America.
In 1978, the Coors Brewing Company released Coors Light. This light beer spin on the brand’s flagship Coors “Banquet Beer” went on to become a huge success for the company: It’s currently the second best-selling beer brand in the United States behind Bud Light. And yet, in 1995, Coors released another new brew to far less fanfare – it doesn’t even have Coors in the name – that may have had an even bigger impact on America’s beer scene. That year, brewer Keith Villa created the first batch of Blue Moon Belgian White Ale. And now, after decades with the company, Villa has announced he is leaving MillerCoors.
If you weren’t aware of Blue Moon’s roots as a Coors product, you’re not alone. At one point, MillerCoors was even sued for allegedly attempting to hide the brand’s big beer roots. But Villa first created Blue Moon while working at the small Sandlot Brewery located at Coors Field. It’s gone on to be, by far, the best-selling non-lager in the country and the 11th best-selling brand overall, selling only about a sixth of what Coors Light does, but still racking up more than twice the sales of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, the next best-selling non-lager beer.
“While I am stepping away and retiring from MillerCoors, this company will forever hold a special place in my heart,” Villa said via the statement. “Over the last 20 years, I have witnessed the growth of Blue Moon from a local beer that we developed at the SandLot to a brand that is sold around the world.”
The success of Blue Moon has been a bit of a double-edged sword for the craft beer world. On one hand, as a major beer company’s take on a traditionally craft beer style, Blue Moon could be seen as cutting into actual craft brands’ business – especially since Coors worked to distance itself from the beer for promotional purposes. However, by successfully bringing Belgian white into the mainstream, Blue Moon also has helped open Americans’ palates to styles beyond your average macro-lager – something that has likely benefited the craft beer industry as a whole in the long run.
Regardless of how you see it, Villa’s legacy should definitely not be overlooked or forgotten. “On behalf of everyone at MillerCoors and millions of beer drinkers, we thank Keith not only for his creativity, vision and contributions to Blue Moon Brewing Company, but for helping open the hearts and minds of beer drinkers across the world,” MillerCoors CEO Gavin Hattersley and CMO David Kroll wrote in a company memo.
Villa officially steps down on January 5. He reportedly “will have no formal involvement” with MillerCoors moving forward and instead said that he’s “looking forward to spending time with my family, traveling and exploring new creative ventures.” Maybe that even means more new beers? Though it’s unlikely he’ll ever have another success as big as Blue Moon.