The war is on in the world of beer. While the Canadian beer market is still ruled by the big players like Labatt (owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev), Molson (Molson Coors) and Sleeman (owned by Sapporo), craft breweries are becoming more of a threat with craft beer sales showing the highest sales growth of all product segments at the LCBO for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
One way the large corporations are dealing with the threat of this slow and steady growth is by buying these smaller breweries outright. But with the number of privately owned breweries on a fast incline, it’s getting harder to keep up. So, the big guys are playing the craft game; or at least, they’re trying.
By introducing new varieties with a darker hue and bolder flavours, the goal is to appeal to the beer drinker who prefers a more complex brew and maybe win back some of their dwindling market share. Check out some examples of how the corporations are getting crafty…
Molson Canadian Wheat
A good wheat beer, such as a Dutch witbier, uses flavours including coriander and orange peel and is brewed with a large proportion of wheat, obvs. A popular option here in Ontario is Hoegaarden which is brewed in Belgium.
Molson is certainly not known for the most adventurous or exciting offerings in the world of beer, so it’s interesting to see them hitting the market with something out of their comfort zone. Props for the effort but according to most reviews thus far, this isn’t a wheat-beer-drinkers kind of beer. However the omission of any distinct wheat-beer flavours such as the aforementioned may make it enjoyable for a less experienced palette.
Keith’s Cascade Hop Ale and Hallertauer Hop Ale
I’m no expert, but I’m guessing if you stick the word ‘hop’ into your beer name, you’re looking to jump on the craft bandwagon. This is just one offering from Keith’s ‘Hop Series’ which aims to highlight the unique flavours and characteristics of the particular hop used in each beer.
This brew is one example of not only brewing a beer to appeal to a craft drinking crowd but marketing it that way, too. Shock Top is actually owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s largest brewer also responsible for more mainstream brands such as Budweiser, Stella and Corona. Shock Top has been marketed cleverly without a trace of its multi-million dollar parent so that it won’t be tarred with the mass production brush. But we’re smarter than that, right?
Budweiser Black Crown
Bud decided they need to expand their product line and after much deliberation by the American public, this is what they came up with: Budweiser Black Crown. They sell it as having “more body and flavour than the flagship lager”; one could argue that the same line could be used to sell sparkling water but hey, the American people chose it so maybe it’s worth a try…
Stella Artois Cidre
Anheuser-Busch InBev continues to expand their product range with this cider which is a drier, European style and is being marketed as a little more ‘upscale’. Cider is becoming increasingly popular in North America and so the Big Boys are jumping on the bandwagon not just with this offering but also with Alexander Keith’s Original Cider. Molson Coors also have a take on the trend with Molson Canadian Cider. Their marketing includes the promise of 100% Canadian apples, while Stella uses ‘handpicked apples’ for Stella Artois Cidre. Referencing close to home, handpicked produce plays to the beat of the craft drum although I’m not sure the craft crowd is that easily fooled. I guess only time will tell who will win the battle of the beers… I for one am rooting for the little guys!