Is that craft beer in your grocery cart really brewed by a small, independent brewery, or does it come from the same commercial vats as other non-craft beverages? It can be hard to tell, especially now that big name retailers like Walmart are selling their own private label “craft” brands.
Complete with quirky names like Cat’s Away IPA, After Party Pale Ale, and Pack of Trouble, Walmart teamed up with a company called Trouble Brewing to create its own line of craft brews, which it started selling in early 2016, the Washington Post reports.
You might not have noticed, however, as nowhere on the packaging is there any indication that Walmart is behind the cheaply priced brews. That’s par for the course, Walmart says, as it doesn’t put its name on any of its private label brands. There is no intention to deceive customers, the company says.
“We were intentional about designing a package that conveyed a look and feel you’d expect of craft beer,” Teresa Budd, a senior buyer for Walmart’s adult beverage team, tells WaPo.
But as WaPo points out, there is no American brewery called Trouble Brewing: the applicant listed on filings with theTreasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is “Winery Exchange, Inc.,” which has since become WX Brands, a company that “develops exclusive brands of wine, beer and spirits for retailers around the world,” according to its website.
Then, under “brewery address,” the TTB filings list the address of Genesee Brewing’s business office in Rochester, NY. As anyone who has ever shotgunned a Genesee Cream Ale at a college party knows, it is doesn’t have much of a craft reputation.
Beyond that, according to the national Brewers Association, a craft brewery is defined as small (annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less); independent (less than 25% of the brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer); and traditional (“a brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation”).
Genesee is owned by a company called Florida Ice and Farm, which brews a Costa Rican lager and other industrial brands.
Walmart isn’t alone in obscuring where a craft beer actually comes from: WaPo points out that Costco’s Kirkland Signature Handcrafted Beer is purportedly made at either New York Brewer in New York, or Hopfen und Malz in San Jose, TX. However, TTB filings show they’re brewed at F.X. Matt (the home of Saranac) and Gordon Biersch, respectively.
In the end, you’ll likely get what you pay for: though these private label brands go for as much as $5 less than other craft brands, a team of WaPo staffers weighed in on one Trouble Brewing beverage, calling it “flabby,” and “good for flip cup.” Another was described as, “bland nothingness” and “lacking an identifiable taste.”
Last year, a federal court threw out a lawsuit against MillerCoors for allegedly misleading consumers about the “craft” nature of its Blue Moon beers. The plaintiffs in that case had argued that the beer giant had deliberately distanced itself from the Blue Moon brand in order to sell the beer for a higher price.