I love Blue Moon. And not in the same way that this guy loves Breckenridge Avalanche Amber.
Blue Moon is the most important beer in the history of the craft segment.
As with Mr. Hoberman and Avalanche, I don’t buy Blue Moon. For a Belgian Wit, I much prefer the range of craft options from the crisp lemon of Allagash White to the near-indescribable earthiness of Fantôme Blanche. Still, Blue Moon was integral to my transition from college party keg #omgimsodrunkrightnow fermented rice water to this perpetually enthralling exploration of all make and model of craft beer. And for that, I love Blue Moon.
You don’t make friends in web forums or beer bars by making a proclamation like this. No one appreciates behemoth, corporate beer-makers encroaching on what’s considered the hallowed ground of artisanal, independent breweries. In one corner, market share and profitability. In the other, passion and entrepreneurial spunk. Which do you want to be in? Most of the time, you’ll find me in the corner of craft beer, but not when it comes to Blue Moon. Why? Because Blue Moon is the most important beer in the history of the craft segment.
I’m aware this position is debatable. The influence of English ales on the beer palate and industry started two generations prior to Blue Moon’s first draught. Regional contemporaries like Anchor Steam, Fat Tire, Saranac, Session Lager, and all brewpubs everywhere deserve big ups. I love hearing stories about a beer geek’s gateway beer almost as much as they relish the opportunity to tell it.
The key turning point for everyone who moves from “BMC” (a beer nerd’s derogatory acronym for “Bud-Miller-Coors”) to craft beer is the introduction of something new, but not too new. Few jump from Coors Light to Dale’s Pale Ale. Fewer jump from there to Stone Ruination IPA. But Coors stumbled upon a bit of a wormhole in the average beer drinker’s palate progression – detouring through a Belgian style that until recently was the acquired taste of the few religious zealots of the beer world.
In a great feature in DRAFT magazine, Stan Hieronymous profiles brewer Keith Villa and the origin story of Blue Moon Belgian White. Although very subtle in his description of his recipe design, Villa clearly took an approach that departed from the classic recipe and democratized the style. It worked out better than Villa or Coors could have imagined. Blue Moon Belgian White now boasts sales equivalent to 10% of the entire craft segment in the US, coinciding with craft’s own huge expansion into BMC’s market share. Put another way, perhaps craft beer bottles wouldn’t be showing up on shows like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead if Mila Kunis wasn’t publicly declaring her love for Blue Moon during press junkets.
Let’s not kid ourselves and call Blue Moon artisanal, “craft” (at least as the Brewer’s Association has defined it), or any other moniker describing its production as boutique. Artisanal brewers don’t have offices full of people dedicated to designing their promotional coasters. But Blue Moon does share a critical end result with the “craft” club working so hard to fence it out – they both introduce people to breakthrough flavors and ideas in the endless spectrum of beer. And that’s where the difference matters most. The sheer size of their marketing machine mathematically makes Blue Moon Belgian White the most common bridge between BMC and craft. In the words of Ron Burgundy, “It’s science.”
I would have written this whole thing off as a happy accident if it weren’t for the fact that Coors is now completely rebooting this story with AC Golden. Although it started as the vehicle for Colorado Native Amber Lager, the real “holy shit” movement is coming from its sour program, led by Coors’ next Keith Villa, Troy Casey. That project, more than any other, has been the biggest awakening for me in craft beer since my own gateway moment.
The first year that AC Golden brought beer to Avery’s SourFest, I admit I breezed right past it. I couldn’t fathom the idea of a Coors brand wrangling a process so few have mastered. When I finally got around to trying it that day, there wasn’t much I liked about the one I tried. Then, they made a few appearances at fringe GABF events later that year, followed by glowing reviews. Troy began turning up to craft community events, quietly holding best-of-show sours in unmarked bottles to share with unsuspecting enthusiasts. People were blindsided by how well they stood up to the most sought-after beers in the world. Soon after, they made their first bottling run, which sold out immediately. Despite the gargantuan size of this challenge, they’ve overcome the stigma and won over some of the most discerning customers in the market. I, too, am now a card-carrying AC Golden fanboy.
To many of my peers deeply entrenched in the craft beer scene, this story should sound familiar. And that’s because it’s the exact same experience we’ve had with countless new “craft” breweries. And this was coming…from Coors. Holy shit, indeed.
As for my gateway beer? I’m not so sure it was even a craft beer. Mine may have been Blue Moon. It may have been Fat Tire. It may have been a pin keg of skunky Moosehead Lager at a backyard barbecue for all I know. There have been a lot of beers that have guided me down the path to craft beer enlightenment. For me then, just like hundreds more daily today, beers like Blue Moon deserve respect for setting us on that path to begin with.
I think we’d all be a lot better off if we started saying it.