A few weeks ago (February 5th) I attended a free beer tasting event at a small brewery in the North Side of Pittsburgh. The event was put on by the unopened Allegheny City Brewing and it was a part of the neighborhood’s local Mardi Gras celebration. They weren’t the only local brewery with this strategy, War Streets Brewing (another North Side brewery) did the same thing the night before. I was unable to attend the War Streets event, but I heard the turnout was phenomenal, and I know from being there that the turnout for Allegheny City was huge. This got me thinking, how in the hell do these breweries that aren’t even open already have such a great following? I mean, yeah there’s free beer, but after talking to a few people, these people really loved this place. So what gives?
Before we get into that, I think it’s only fitting to draw some comparisons between a macro-brewery and Allegheny City, and there’s no better one to compare to than good ol’ Anheuser-Busch InBev. Their Super Bowel commercial this year (titled Not Backing Down) threw around terms like, “Not a hobby,” “Not small,” “Not sipped,” “Not soft,” “Not imported,” “Not a fruit cup,” and hands down my personal favorite, “Not for everyone.” Even better yet, their Super Bowl commercial from last year (titled Brewed the Hard Way) directly attacked the craft beer scene, pointing out that their beer is “It’s not brewed to be fussed over;” “This is the only beer beechwood aged;” “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.” Let’s take a moment and really dissect some of these statements.
So we’ll start with the easier ones: “Not a hobby,” and “Brewed the hard way.” I don’t think there is any secret here: brewing beer on any professional level, from nano- to macro-, is not some easy task. Brewing takes work. It’s not just some lackadaisical hobby for local brewers to throw together beer and run a business: it’s all brewed the hard way. Let’s move on to the beechwood aged thing. As a homebrewer, I’ve done some research into this, and it basically amounts to nothing other than surface area for the yeast to cling to (something that’s important when lagering massive batches of beer). Other than that, there is little to no flavor contribution from the wood. And let’s not forget, Anheuser-Busch is the only major brewer in the world to use this technique, and there’s probably a good reason for that. This brings me to the next few points: “Not sipped,” “Not a fruit cup,” “not brewed to be fussed over,” “not for dissecting.” This to me comes off as an admission that their beer just put bluntly lacks complexity. Good luck trying to sip a Budweiser to dissect the flavor notes in it, let alone fussing over how great it tastes. Some of AB InBev’s craft offerings on the other hand, now those are beers I can sip, dissect and enjoy; especially their “fruit cup” sour beers (I’m looking at you Goose Island).
One of the greatest ironies of all of this is the, “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale, we’ll be brewing us some golden suds.” Anheuser-Busch has been snatching up every craft brewery they can get their paws on, and one of their larger acquisitions, Elysian, actually produces a peach pumpkin ale. Now I realize these specific ads are strictly for Budweiser, but it sure seems like they are trash talking their own products. I don’t have any kind of marketing background, but I don’t think you should talk negatively about something you are making and selling. Anheuser-Busch owns brands like Goose Island (which I thoroughly enjoy), Kona Brewing (another favorite of mine), and let’s not forget that they do import for companies like Leffe, Hoegaarden, and Stella Artois, among others (so there goes that “Not imported” thing). Analyzing all of these statements, I’ve come to agree with Anheuser-Busch, Budweiser is “Not for everyone,” including me. They are essentially pursuing a marketing strategy that tears apart their own customer base and disrupts the sense of community that can be found in the beer scene.
Let’s get back to Allegheny City. This free beer tasting was not their first. They’ve done a number in the past and been involved in many of the local North Side community events. They focused on integrating themselves into the community that their brewery calls home. From local music festivals to all vegan festivals, they’ve been making the development of their brewery a truly communal project. They’ve been exceptionally active on social media, sharing all of their progress along the way and they’ve been extremely grateful for the support they’ve received along the way. That’s why even with only four beers on tap for the free samples they managed to draw in a crowd that you had to wait in line for almost thirty minutes to get a beer. The line literally snaked around where their taps will be, into the adjacent room and around their brewing equipment, and out the door down the block. Trust me when I say, of those four, every single one was phenomenal. My personal favorite was the Allegheny Common Ground, a coffee brown ale. My brother’s favorite was Buster Blonde, a really well executed blonde ale, which was strange because he’s a full-blooded IPA kind of guy. Their Funkhouser sour and Aiko Aiko IPA were both great too. This is really a brewery to keep your eyes on if you ever come to visit Pittsburgh. Oh, worth mentioning, right outside the door was a local food truck serving up delicious food. Everything about this place screamed community, and that’s what craft beer is, a community, so get out to your local brewery and have a few to celebrate the community they’ve created for us.
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