Budweiser’s first ale officially rolls into stores today, Monday, September 29, although I spotted it in my local beer store on Saturday. The significance of this beer goes beyond a brewer introducing a new product. This is America’s largest brewer introducing a craft beer.
The reactions to this ale have run the gamut in the beer community. Some think it will be the downfall of craft beer. Some think it will ultimately be a failure for Anheuser-Busch. We tasted the American Ale and it is decent, if not outstanding. Microbreweries can make small batches of experimental beer to test how their customers will receive it. A-B doesn’t have that luxury. They need this beer to appeal to as many people as possible in order for it to be a success. I think that is why this ale is sort of a middle-of-the-road amber but it could tun out to be a “gateway ale” that introduces the masses to craft beer.
Only time will tell if A-B’s marketing muscle can convince their customer base to try something different or convince craft beer drinkers to try something with a Bud label. Calling it an “American” ale and a “new style of ale” is transparent marketing chicanery that reveals how they hope to position this beer in the market. However, A-B’s new owner, InBev, is not known for its patience or willingness to experiment so I think that if American Ale isn’t a hit out of the gate, it will disappear quickly.
A six-pack of American Ale is supposed to be about $1.50 more than a six-pack of Bud. The price I saw was $6.99 for a six-pack which is only slightly less than your average craft beer. This could be a problem for Bud since regular craft drinkers, who are used to paying a premium for good beer, won’t see much of a savings over their normal beer and regular Bud drinkers may not be willing to pay a premium for a Bud ale when a Bud lager is what they are used to purchasing and drinking.
[Update 10/7] I found American Ale for $5.77 for a six-pack which is a little cheaper than other national craft beers, like Sam Adams.
Whether this beer succeeds or fails, I think it is a validation of the craft beer industry. When the big boys start to copy your product, it means your product is worth something. Craft beer sales make up only 4.5 percent of the total US beer market but are growing faster than the overall market at about 7 percent compared to around 1 percent. Craft beers sell for higher prices as well, which is obviously something the macro-brewers would like to duplicate.
What do you think? Is this the end of the craft world as we know it or will this ultimately help the craft industry?