When that didn't keep Bud on the taps in craft beer bars, A-B followed in up in 2009 with Bud Light Golden Wheat. A lighter, watered-down take on witbier, Golden Wheat was a step in the right direction, but not punchy enough to hang with Allagash White, Dogfish Head Namaste, St. Bernardus Wit or even Coors' Blue Moon.
The most glaringly obvious play for the craft consumer's attention came earlier this year, when A-B bought Goose Island Brewery parent company Fulton Street Brewing from A-B's distribution partner Craft Brewers Alliance for $38.8 million. Much like MillerCoors uses the Leinenkugel's line as its craft costume, Goose Island drinkers are now basically having a Bud every time they hoist a 312 Urban Wheat or Honkers Ale.
Everyone at the bar realizes the big brewers are fighting a pitched battle for beer drinkers' expanding palates, but A-B doesn't have to be nearly this patronizing to get the job done. They've already created a beer with crossover craft appeal and they did so not by trying to play craft brewers' game, but by sticking to their own playbook and beating back a big beer rival. That beer is called Shock Top and though fairly mild for a Belgian White, it holds its own with Blue Moon and draws a big-brew crowd to an unquestionably craft flavor.
A-B has even expanded the Shock Top line to include pumpkin wheat and raspberry wheat varieties and in doing so may have uncovered an important niche -- casual beer drinkers who don't often stray from low octane lagers, but are swayed by the occasional seasonal fruit beer. Coors has taken a similar approach with its Blue Moon brand, which makes MillerCoors' and A-B's craft buyouts seem not only silly, but slightly redundant.Bud Light Platinum, which isn't even a light beer at nearly 140 calories, looks similarly ill-conceived by comparison. Instead of springing annual gimmicks on a skeptical public each year in an attempt to crush the craft competition, A-B might want to consider sticking to its strengths, duplicating its successes and maximizing the advantage of its sprawling distribution network by filling in with better product. Craft beer drinkers aren't into their beer for the novelty, but for the quality -- which hasn't exactly been platinum-level among the big brewers' quantity-driven beers. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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