The Problem with 'Anti-Craft Craft Beers'
The craft beer industry—like many industries—is driven by trends. Barrel-aged brews, session IPAs and contemporary goses are just a few examples of noteworthy innovations we've seen in recent memory. What these and other successful new beer styles have in common is that they drive the industry forward. Craft beer was born out of its willingness to progress while big brewers prefered to keep things in neutral. Now, a new trend is emerging: flashily-marketed, hip-sounding "anti-craft craft beers"—and their ideology is as flawed as their name is paradoxical.
The first prominent example of this style of beer was House Beer—launched in Southern California in late 2013. The concept is simple: a craft beer for people who tend to prefer good ol' fashioned macro lagers like Bud, Miller and Coors. For the (huge) group that likes those types of lagers, there's a certain romanticism to having your cake and eating it too—getting the beer you want while still sticking it to "the man"—but unfortunately, nothing is romantic about House Beer. None of the four founders of the brand have a brewing background; instead, it is contract brewed in Denver by a former Coors employee. However, what the founders lack in beer expertise, they try to make up for in marketing prowess—including a staged press photo that makes them look a little like a beer version of the Backstreet Boys.
None of this is to say there is a glaring problem with the actual beer—it's a perfectly drinkable lager. What's wrong is how it's marketed. It's fine to present your founders as four guys who probably belong in a Bud Light commercial if you're competing against Bud Light. But instead, House Beer attempts to edge into the beer market by exploiting a supposed crack in the idea of craft beer as innovation: "Anti-craft craft beers" want consumers to believe that embracing macro-lagers is somehow an innovation in itself, a mind-bending act of craft beer appropriation.
The annoying thing about bad ideas is that, since they often languish in obscurity, fresh minds often think they've come up with them anew. In the past couple weeks, two new brands have been pushing this same flawed concept. Dive Bar Brewing Company is trying to expand in the Denver area. "We want to be the PBR of the craft-beer industry," Tom Flanagan, one of the brewery's four cofounders said in a recent interview. This foursome seems to have their heart in a somewhat more genuine place—one of them is an actual brewer—but Flanagan, the first of the four founders listed on the company website, is described as having "extensive experience in the advertising, music, sports, and entertainment industries."
And launching this Thursday, possibly the most flagrant example of craft beer co-option run amuck: Day Beer from 24 Hour Beer—a beer brand started by Ring the Alarm, a music-focused advertising company. "Being out there [on LA's music and arts scenes] and drinking beer, we felt like this was missing," Daron Hollowell, one of Ring the Alarm's three partners told Brewbound, apparently oblivious to House Beer. Meanwhile, Brent Nichols, another partner whose beer credentials are listed as having worked with Kanye West, lamented the need for a "lighter, crushable" craft beer, apparently oblivious to all beer in general. "The goal right now is to take over Los Angeles," Hollowell is later quoted as saying—in one sentence embracing everything that is "anti-craft" about their self-described "anti-craft, craft beer."
It's a sad irony that the team behind Day Beer comes from the music world—an industry that knows all too well how passionate and talented artists can fail to catch a break while flashier ones get pushed to the forefront. At least in the music industry though, the Backstreet Boys never claimed to be competing with Radiohead or LCD Soundsystem. Every genre deserves to be embraced, but "anti-craft craft beer" is a self-destructive contradiction… a genre that by definition doesn't exist.
And what about those people who actually do want to have their cake and eat it too: grab an easy-drinking lager but support smaller independent brewers? Fortunately, that is more easily accomplished than ever before and can be done without the "anti-craft craft" crowd. The craft beer world has shown a renewed interest in brewing lagers. Easy drinking American-made Mexican-style lagers are a style that has especially been growing. In fact, every anti-craft craft beer maker's favorite buzz word "crushable"—has been on the tongue of an innumerable number of actual quality craft brewers across the country. But if you really like macro lagers, maybe you should just drink a macro lager. At least they were started by real brewers.