Brand Loyalty & The Craft Beer ‘Break- Up’

jokermeme

There are some hurt feelings around today. Some people will say some things they will regret, tears will be shed and spats will be had. I am of course talking about the news that Asahi has taken 100% ownership of the Melbourne craft beer institution, Mountain Goat. It is not the first craft brewery to now have either partly sold or  full ownership be sold to ‘Big Beer’. In recent weeks Lagunitas has sold a 50% stake to Heineken and AB InBev has made another acquisition in LA Golden Road Brewing. But I think it’s the Mountain Goat sale that has most people rattled and made people turn on what is a most loved brewery and i’ll tell you why: Brand Loyalty, more specifically craft beer brand royalty.

Personally, when I first heard this I thought ‘well, that’s the end of Mountain Goat, never drinking it again’ but straight after that I thought again, ‘ hang on, how is it going to taste any different from today to tomorrow?’ The answer? It won’t. So what changed? Very simply, perception. It then got me thinking about brand loyalty, perception, business and what a serious double edged sword it can be.

For the sake of this exercise I’m going to use Mountain Goat as I see it as my best frame of reference. Brand loyalty will create any business a loyal army of followers, people that will invest themselves in the brand, their ideas, their philosophy and most importantly, their product. And Mountain Goat have managed to do this for 15 years, creating some fiercely loyal followers. Their philosophy? Independent, ‘untamed’, craft beer. You know what’s not ‘independent. untamed craft beer’? Selling to Asahi. To this extent, people have a right to feel jaded about this recent deal. Such an old craft institution like Mountain Goat selling to big business is a hard blow to take for what is essentially one of the original, family owned brewers in Victoria. People have a right to be unhappy.

An important thing to remember though is that Mountain Goat, along with the other high profile breweries, are a business. Dave and Cam have worked hard for decades to get to where they are and are now reaping the rewards of their success. And you know what? That isn’t a bad thing!

So lets not be the bitchy exes of the craft beer relationship. Be happy for their success and when you see them in the street, don’t ignore them, ask them how they are and what they’re doing, are they seeing anyone? Also comment on how great they’re looking… Let’s face it, Asahi have been brewing the vast majority of the Mountain Goat stable for 3 years now and there has been no change in quality. It may be naive to think it won’t change now but Mountain Goat will always be Mountain Goat, a Melbourne craft beer Mecca and nothing will change that.

Craft Breweries And The Name Game

For those unaware, this happened this week: Empire Brewing is being sued by Lucasfilms for the title of their spring lager: Strikes Bock.

Now, it’s worth mentioning too that they have been brewing this for seven years now and only now decided to apply for the trademark of the name as it was only ever on tap in their brew pub. But come on, this is pretty tongue in cheek. It’s funny, but it’s pretty cheeky at the same time. How could they NOT have thought of the movie when they named this beer? And it got me thinking… There are plenty of brewers in Australia taking liberties with naming their brews too.

Holgate ‘Millenium Falcon’, admittedly brewed with Millennium and Falconers Flight hops sports on its label what is unmistakably THE millennium falcon in hop form, HogDog Beerworks Chai Fighter label is pretty much a scene from Star Wars complete with the famous TIE fighter ship and yellow lettering and last but not least: just about every brew from MoonDog Brewery, an absolute cavalcade of pop culture references going on there: Jumping the Shark (Happy Days), Chocolate Salty Balls (South Park) and the famous Black Lung (Zoolander), just to name a few…

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Taking too many liberties?

 

I can see this argument from both sides: Brewers are infringing on intellectual license here at points but at the same time most brewers I know are complete and utter nerds and revel in the pop culture beast. Honestly, it is very difficult to come by any sort of media(i.e. movie, tv series, book, ect.) these days that does not have some sort of reference or just blatant rip off from what would be deemed ‘cult’ pop culture: Star Wars, Star Trek, the works of Tarantino (which by the way is nothing but homage!), Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Monty Python, the works of Tolkien…. The list goes on, and all of them have been used extensively. And unsurprisingly, those people that used these works as reference have never been pulled up about it because it has been given a slight make over: you can see where it came from, but it’s different somehow. Thats how pop culture references work.

I would go so far to argue that how could this NOT have happened? Pop culture is so deeply intrenched in to our every day lives that it would be impossible to not have beers called Rye Hard (Temple Brewing) and Hey, Juniper! (Killer Sprocket). When artistic people (brewers) are given artistic license (brewing) of course they are going to draw from what influences them most, which is most likely going to be  pop culture references.

The question that keeps coming back to me is this: How far is too far? When does it make that step from homage to absolute rip off? Is Empire Brewing being a little hard done by here or was the writing on the wall? Brewers out there, have you thought about this? Has it come to your mind? I’m really interested to hear your thoughts!

It’s a slippery slope people, I wouldn’t want to be on it…