Beer Wars Pit Craft Brewers Against Beer Giants

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Beer Wars Pit Craft Brewers Against Beer Giants

It’s one of America’s favorite pastimes: celebrating with a cold one.

Beer is having a big moment, a revolution of sorts, from festivals to tours to beer gardens.

In the old days, beer was the down-scale beverage of choice of down-to-earth movie characters like Bluto in “Animal House” or Smokey in “Smokey and the Bandit.”

But these days, beer is taken as seriously as fine wine. This isn’t your ordinary six-pack. People are increasingly seeking out beers made by smaller brewers that experiment with flavor, creating what's known as craft beer.

But often that flavor comes at a price. On average, a six-pack of craft beer will cost you a few bucks more than the big brewers’ brands.

The past year alone, hundreds of new craft breweries have popped up all over the United States. Sales are up 15 percent. And with big beer sales on the decline, companies like Anheuser-Busch are scrambling to get a cut of the craft beer craze.

The beer wars are on, between the big beer giants and micro-breweries. The maker of Budweiser, Anheuser-Busch, which owns nearly 50 percent of the U.S. market, now admits they were complacent.

“The small brewers did a great job bringing innovation into the market,” said Paul Chibe, chief marketing officer at Anheuser-Busch. “And they brought excitement back to the beer category. And the big brewers, we were very much focused on winning with the brands that we have, but we weren’t necessarily paying attention to some of the things are happening around us.”

Now Anheuser-Busch wants in. The company started its own craft beer called Shock Top. And it’s even buying up craft breweries like Goose Island in Chicago.

“We're the rich uncle who provides them the resources that they need,” said Chibe, “And the team there, they continue to innovate, they continue to dream these new amazing beers up and bring them into the market and we let them continue with that culture of innovation.”

One of the largest craft beer makers in the country is The Boston Beer Co., home of Sam Adams.

“I tell people, ‘Drink the beer, don't drink the advertising or marketing,’ and may the best beer win,” said Jim Koch, founder of The Boston Beer Co.

Another craft brewer, Brooklyn Brewery, is producing about 10 times more beer than three years ago, but it’s still only a tiny fraction compared to the big guys. But brewmaster Garrett Oliver says they're still winning.

“At the end of the day, craft brewers are the ones who are creating this excitement,” said Oliver. “This movement is happening now because our entire culture is moving toward more flavor. It is better to have two beers that taste great than to have six beers that don't taste like anything and I think people have finally come to realize that.”

But Anheuser-Busch contends that Budweiser is still the king of beers.

“There's a reason why we sell as much Bud and Bud Light that we do,” said Chibe. “It's because people like it and it’s good.”

Regardless of who you think makes the better beer, it’s clear the beer renaissance is here to stay.