The night of the most recent Super Bowl, snow was piling up outside McCall's Salmon River Brewery, but the atmosphere inside was warm, even jovial. That is, until a now notorious Budweiser commercial flashed across the bar's TV. Backed by a menacing drum beat, the following words stormed across the screen:
"Budweiser, proudly a macro beer. It's not brewed to be fussed over. It's brewed for a crisp, smooth finish. This is the only beer beechwood aged since 1876. There's only one Budweiser. It's brewed for drinking not dissecting. The people who drink our beer are people who like to drink beer brewed the hard way. Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale, we'll be brewing us some golden suds. This is the famous Budweiser beer. This Bud's for you."
The commercial was an obvious slap in the face to craft beer drinkers and a gut-punch to Elysian Brewing, which Budweiser parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev had acquired the week before. That fall, Elysian released a beer called Gourdgia on my Mind, described as "a peach pecan pumpkin amber."
Dick Cantwell, a co-founder of Elysian who resigned in April over the acquisition, was understandably unimpressed by the commercial.
"I find it kind of incredible that ABI would be so tone-deaf as to pretty directly (even if unwittingly) call out one of the breweries they have recently acquired, even as that brewery is dealing with the anger of the beer community in reaction to the sale," Cantwell told the Chicago Tribune after the Superbowl.
Long Island's Blue Point Brewing Company experienced a similar outcry from the craft beer-drinking community when it was acquired by AB InBev in February 2014. So did Bend, Ore.-based 10 Barrel when ABI picked it up in November 2014.
"Like the Blue Point sale, there appears to be a strong sense of local betrayal, as posters on both Blue Point's and now 10 Barrel's Facebook pages declare hypocrisy of the local claims when shown in the reflected light of large brewer corporate purchase," wrote Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a craft beer trade group.
That sense of "local betrayal" is central to the ever-widening divide between craft and macro breweries.
When asked in a recent Nielsen study, "How important is being locally made in your purchase decision for beer?" 45 percent of those surveyed said it was important. Among 21- to 34-year-olds, that number was an even higher 53 percent. Overall, millennials are more discerning consumers—they want to know who made their beer, what it's made from and, most important, where it was produced.
Adding fuel to the controversy surrounding Budweiser's Super Bowl ad, Eugene, Ore.-based Ninkasi Brewing released its own commercial on YouTube. Backed by the same thundering drum beat, the parody proclaimed, "Ninkasi, proudly a craft brewery. Some beers are worth a little fuss. If you aren't drinking a beer for taste, what are you drinking it for? We leave the beechwood out. You can dissect our beers, and you can drink them, too. The community who drinks craft beer are people who like to drink beer. Brewed the easy way? You can enjoy your golden suds, pass us a pumpkin ale. Craft is the future of beer."