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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Blue Moon as a folk song

No, I'm not talking about a 12-string acoustic version of the 1934 Rodgers and Hart classic (although I really like the "Blue Moon Revisited" version the Cowboy Junkies recorded). I'm talking about a great thought-provoking post that Stan Hieronymus has up over at his Appellation Beer blog (which, by the way, you should read regularly, like I do). Stan's question: if you were to consider Blue Moon White as a 1960s folk artist, would it be Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary, or Trini Lopez?

Crazy, yes, but get inside Stan's genuine Old Folky head, and it sounds like this: is Blue Moon about the beer, or about the money and fame and riding a wave? Is it "authentic", which Stan says was the big question about PP&M back in his high school days (Trini Lopez was not, and even I knew it, at the age of 10). Stan says history proved them to be so. They were on the right side of causes for 40 years (Stan's right side, which I don't endorse blindly, but Stan's a good guy), but also:

"They wrote excellent songs of their own, but just as importantly generously helped promote many other songwriters. They sounded prettier than Dylan singing Blowin’ in the Wind, but that allowed them to broadcast a political messages [sic] to far larger audiences than the Weavers every [sic] reached.
And that last is the crux. Molson Coors is one of the biggest pains in my professional ass. I have not been able to build a relationship with them, and I find it hard to warm up to a company that sometimes insists on having a lawyer on the line when they allow an interview. But Blue Moon is doing solid work on wedging open the craft beer niche for literally millions of mainstream beer drinkers, and I just can't see how that's a bad thing.

If you want to talk history, it gets even more solid. When the big craft boom was going on in the 1990s, all three big brewers jumped in: Anheuser-Busch with their Elk Mountain and American Originals lines and some innovative Michelob specialties; Miller had Miller Reserve, and Coors launched Blue Moon.

When the Great Craft Flatline hit in 1997-98, we saw who was authentic. A-B pulled out. Miller pulled out. Coors kept Blue Moon alive, when it couldn't possibly have made sense for them to do so. Maybe it was inertia, or maybe it was keeping faith with the irrepressible Keith Villa.

But I tasted their Chardonnay grape wheat beer at the GABF judging last year, and pushed it hard for a medal, with no idea it was a Blue Moon/Coors product (who the hell would have thought?), because it was one of the very best fruit beers I'd ever tasted, and the panel agreed. So I think they've still got it in them to make authentic beers. Why not? Keith Villa is 100% authentic, and always has been. And he still works for Coors.

We're not going to settle this question now or any time soon. But with Blue Moon growing at a phenomenal pace -- 79% in 2005, over 100% in 2006, and closing in on SN PA in sales, according to Villa -- history may well overtake us. How will we know? When all those Blue Moon drinkers start branching out and trying something new.

Meanwhile... if those craft beer figures released by the BA included Blue Moon, and Redhook, and Widmer, and Goose Island, and A-B's organic beers and specialty seasonals, and all the non-mainstream beers that aren't BA-approved, or hell, even the non-mainstream imports...What kind of growth would there have been? What kind of volume would there be? What kind of percentage would these non-mainstream beers have of the total beer market? I'm just sayin'...


Anonymous said...

In my experience seeing the types that order Blue Moon, I don't think its leading anyone to better crafts. If Blue moon goes away, they'll go back to what they usually drink or move on to the next fad beer.

As far as authentic - malted wheat vs. unmalted wheat makes a big difference in drinkablility with this style. With that said, I don't care about authenticity of ingredients more than I do about the final results (flavor, drinkability). And in my opinion, Blue Moon is close to undrinkable due to its over spiced cloying nature.

Bill said...

When you talk about Miller "pulling out" when craft beer busted, do you not count Leinenkugel's? Or did all their wheat beers come after the fact? That is, are they all new creations?

What makes a beer "BA-approved"? If BA includes Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada and New Belgium, why _wouldn't_ they include Goose Island and Redhook and Widmer? (and do they include New Belgium? If NB is getting ready to pass Sierra Nevada in sales as a poster on another thread said, wouldn't that make 3/4 of "craft beer" sales the result of three companies, not 1/2 be the result of 2?)

Interesting stuff.

Lew Bryson said...

Damnation, man, you sure are making some harsh assumptions about people. But I notice you do say "better crafts." That mean you think Blue Moon IS a craft?

As for your opinion, well, okay. Your opinion. How many times have you had the beer?

Lew Bryson said...

I don't count Leinie; they're run pretty much without input from Miller, at least, that's what the Leinenkugel brothers have told me. And most of their new beers have come since 2000, with a few exceptions: the Creamy Dark and Big Butt, for instance, are older.

The BA doesn't include GI, RH, and Widmer because they are partly owned by A-B. New Belgium IS included; it is independently owned. NB is not going to pass SN real soon, but... Boston was about a million bbls. last year, SN about 640K, NB about 440K. So, okay, the three of them together: just under 2.1 million bbls., which is, oh, about 3/5 of the total. I'll fix the original post, thanks.

Bill said...

Oh, I wasn't trying to get the post corrected -- I didn't know any better. I guess it never occurred to me that the Brewers' Association's definition of craft beer is "anything but Anheuser-Busch, SAB Miller, and Molson/Coors. That's sad, really, that it becomes all about ownership and not about beer. Makes me think my thoughts from a few weeks back, that "craft beer" as a term has outlived its usefulness, is true -- the battle for a wide variety of available styles, flavors, and local options has been won.

Anonymous said...

Lew, I can only speak from my experience - the people I've see ordering BM (ha! now there's an appropriate acronym)don't know much about beer, except what they have seen on TV or info passed to them by friends. I have yet see someone order a BM after looking at a beer menu or looking at the tap handles to see what is available. Its a call out beer similar to Stella, Bass, Guinness, B/M/C etc. When one person orders it, the rest of their friends fall in line and order it as well. These mind numb robots are not the type of audience that craft beer usually appeals to.

On a couple fo recent work related trips to Nashville and Louisville, a couple of people ordered BM's and I asked what that beer was about - and they said things like its a wheat beer - its belgian - its a new beer -etc. When I ask what they used to drink before they discovered it, answers ranged from I don't usually like beer, but I like this - to Shiner Bock - to Bud. They are usually surprised that it is brewed by Coors, been around a while, and is brewed with spices. Maybe a very small fraction of BM drinkers will be lead down the path to better beer, but I think most don't have any interest except for the beer their friends told them was good or what they see advertised.

I've had BM a number of times over the last 5 years - the last time was at the Coors brewery in CO about two years ago - I couldn't even finish the free sample.

Is it craft? I guess so - I don't think size has anything to do with it they seem to be using quality ingredients and their intent is to make a flavorful beer - not just a beer that has mass appeal.

Lew Bryson said...

Well...maybe "craft beer" needs some more customers who aren't obsessing about the beer they buy, and are just enjoying it.

Here's my experience with Blue Moon drinkers. I'm lying on a table, donating a pint of blood. The head nurse says to one of the other phlebotomists, "Hey, you ever heard of Blue Moon?" Someone bought her one the night before, she liked it so much she bought two more, and there she was, telling more people about it.

There are times when I think the folks who drink extreme beers are 'mind numb robots,' lining up to suck down the latest beer they've been told is wonderful by their friends. And a lot of times I don't find that any more drinkable than you do Blue Moon. And you know... I don't think extreme beer's leading that many people on to other craft beers, either.

My opinion: once you get someone off dead center, off buying the same brand of light/premium beer every time...they're open to other beers. I've seen it happen too many times not to believe it. But, hey, JMO, y'know?

Anonymous said...

I don't think "discovering" Blue Moon White is a fad. It's a style that should ping with people who like sweeter, not-so-bitter beer and of course [real] craft beers can steal some thunder here, and some have...I've seen it. My sister-in-law has been drinking it like forever...and she loves the taste, not the fad behind it. Will it go away? Hoegaarden will too. Blue Moon White may be undrinkable to most of us...but it's appeal is there, clearly. Much like the Lindeman's "fruit" Lambics. And they're not going anywhere anytime soon. Regardless of the yelling purists.

Anonymous said...

Do Blue Moon haters have equally strong feelings about Celis White and Hoegaarden? If you put those three beers down in front of me, I'd happily drink each and every one of them. Blue Moon is in the same class, and just as tasty. Of course I don't buy much Blue Moon, as I can homebrew something that I like better.

IS it belgian white beers that the haters hate, or is it that Coors is successfully marketing one of them?

Lew Bryson said...


I'd say that was hard to tell. Why a person really likes or dislikes a beer is a real hard thing to get down to. Blind tasting helps, especially when they don't know what they're tasting.

Anonymous said...

Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul & Mary, or Trini Lopez? None of the above.

Carole King, who worked at the Brill Building. :)

With regards,

Mark said...

Blue Moon has always been a prime target for craft beer lovers' vitriol. I sure as hell wouldn't order it.

That said, I agree with Lew that BM serves a purpose.

I do a biweekly beer tasting here in Rochester, NY. Strangely, my clientele is mostly 20-something women (thank god) instead of the expected engineer types with more facial hair than Santa Claus and more opinions than Bill O'Reilly.

The point is, they all came in loving Blue Moon, and you could see the understanding spread across their faces when they finally tasted Hoegaarden. Blue Moon brings hot chicks to good beer.

I, for one, think that's a positive.