Everyone seems to want to get into the craft beer game and now Walmart is jumping into the fray. Never one to miss an opportunity, over the summer Walmart quietly began selling beer that, to most people, looks like any other craft beer you can buy on the market.
Where is Trouble Brewing?
Walmart has been selling beers from Trouble Brewing Co. since mid-2016. Apparently, this brewery is based in Rochester, NY and offers up beers like Cats Away IPA, Red Flag Amber and After Party Pale Ale. Seems in line with most craft beer names and the labels are right there too. So we googled Trouble Brewing and found out two things. It’s the name of an Irish craft brewery and also that there doesn’t seem to be any Trouble Brewing in Rochester, NY.
We found some reference to Trouble Brewing being owned by World Brews in Novato, CA, but they are listed as a beer marketing company and winery exchange and they don’t brew anything. We also know it’s not a tiny, hole-in-the-wall brewery with no marketing because if they are supplying 2,200 of Walmart’s stores with these beers, they have to have a decent sized system. So where is this beer brewed? What big brewery is in Rochester? Why, Genesee of course.
It turns out, Trouble Brewing isn’t a stand-alone brewery and the beer under this label is brewed at Genesee in Rochester. In fact, the only way the Washington Post found out where it was brewed was by looking up documents filed with the TTB that list Genesee’s address for Trouble Brewing. It makes sense now why the flavors are purported to be so “flabby,” “watery,” and “lacking an identifiable taste.”
What stands out about this situation is that Walmart is intentionally trying to trick people into thinking this is really a craft beer. In fact, their senior buyer for their adult beverage team told the Washington Post that they were “intentional about designing a package that conveyed a look and feel you’d expect of a craft beer.” They are misleading people in the hopes of catching the craft beer wave.
Now, it doesn’t have to be this way. Costco is a good example of how they offer their own house brands (contracted through other companies) at a cheaper price but there is no trick with them. Their Kirkland label is obvious and you know what you are buying. Furthermore, people know that they contract with good companies and the Kirkland brand is seen as an inexpensive, but still quality, brand. Walmart, on the other hand, is hoping buyers who are looking to buy a craft product will be misled into trying Trouble Brewing’s beer.
Apparently, they aren’t fooling anyone who has had an actual craft beer. The marketing may be deceptive, but the taste sure isn’t. Here’s one comment from an article in Craft Kulture, “I did not know that it was walmarts beer. I saw it and with so many breweries out there now, I figured why not. I regret my 13 dollar decision. It’s not really that good.”
The (possibly) Good
So while Walmart isn’t doing anything illegal by misrepresenting their house beer, it’s still a shifty thing to do. There might be a silver lining to all of this, however. Walmart shoppers don’t tend to be the biggest craft beer drinkers. That’s why Trouble Brewing beers only goes out to half of the more than 4000 stores nationwide. Craft beer is still new to a lot of their shoppers and while a great tasting craft beer would seem like what you would want non-craft beer drinkers to try and fall in love with, that doesn’t always have to be the case.
Many people complain that craft beers are too strong, too hoppy, too bitter. Well, these beers may just ease people into the craft beer world, without turning their newbie palettes off. Once they taste something beyond macro-lager, they could move onto other, actual craft beers. Or not, and they will think that all craft beer tastes like crap.
What do you think about Walmart’s faux craft beer? Will it help or hurt real craft beer?