Red, white and blue seasonal cans haven't indicated an "American" beer in a long time.
You're going to see a whole lot of beer displays this July 4th weekend, and they're going to feature a whole lot of beers draping themselves in the American Flag to take advantage of the patriotic tone of the holiday. Granted, that isn't exactly in compliance with U.S. code regarding the flag, commonly known as the "flag code." But brewers don't care all that much about those stipulations and argue that their designs only emulate the flag. The code says otherwise:
(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard.
Besides, this patriotic ploy is quickly losing its appeal in a shifting U.S. beer market. Overall U.S. beer sales have either stagnated or declined outright every year since recession-addled 2009. According to the Beer Institute industry lobbying group in Washington, D.C., the only year that U.S. beer sales increased in that time was 2014, when they rose 0.6%. That wasn't enough to erase a downturn that took overall U.S. beer production from 213.3 million barrels in 2008 to 206.3 million last year.
Light lagers owned by large multinational producers have seen sales plummet while sales of craft beer brands continue their steady rise. Since 2009, according to the Brewers Association craft beer industry group in Boulder, Colo., craft beer sales rose from 8.5 million barrels to 24.1 million barrels as brewery numbers increased from 1,523 to more than 4,400.
Yet even craft beers aren't necessarily "American." Since the acquisition of Chicago-based Goose Island Brewing Company in 2011, Anheuser-Busch InBev alone has purchased seven more breweries in as many states, as well as Michigan-based Virtue Cidery. MillerCoors, under joint Canadian and U.S. ownership by Molson Coors, also purchased San Diego's Saint Archer Brewing Company last year.
More impressive, however, is the acquisition of U.S. craft brewers by importers and foreign brewers including Heineken, Constellation Brands, Mahou San Miguel and Duvel Moortgat. This comes as import sales rose 6.2% last year, selling 5 million barrels more than all craft brands combined and snagging a nearly 15% share of the overall U.S. beer market. Mexican brands alone have seen 10.2% growth over the last year, according to Nielsen, matching the growth of craft beer in retail markets while posting 0.2% greater share.
All of this matters a lot more around July 4th than it does during the rest of the year. According to the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, July is the last of the peak summer months for beer sales. Shipments that fester around 14 million to 15 million barrels through spring suddenly jump to about 18 million barrels in June before settling in a 17 million or so in July. By August, it starts its slide just below that 17 million mark before collapsing to as low as 13.3 million by November.
We don't blame brewers for trying to win over U.S. followers at this point in the calendar, but we do question the effectiveness of branding your beer "American" when your headquarters are anything but. The following are just a few examples of brands that are trying to their best to look "American" this July 4th, but that are sending their regards from abroad: