Trouble is brewing — see what we did there? — for Walmart. The retail giant is drowning in malt over a line of beers that are exclusively sold at its stores. The cause of the trouble is the addition of one word: craft. The company touted the beer as a “craft beer” and sold it alongside the likes of Founders, Lagunitas and Stone. But, it turns out the beer isn’t actually craft at all and now there’s a lawsuit to prove it.
This is yet another reminder that people really don’t like to be duped, especially craft beer drinkers. The beer’s label says that it’s a collaboration between the company and Trouble Brewing to create four styles of beer (IPA, Pale Ale, Belgian White, and Amber). The problem is that Trouble Brewing isn’t a thing.
The beer is really made by WX Brand. A little digging will lead you to the Genesee Brewing Company (North American Breweries based in Costa Rica), the sixth biggest brewery in America and makers of your grandpa’s favorite beer (Genesee Cream Ale). Not only is that not a craft brewery, it’s virtually the exact opposite. It’s a giant beer factory.
Obviously, this is how Walmart is able to stock 3,000 stores with this “craft” beer.
The lawsuit, filed in Hamilton County, Ohio, alleges that Walmart’s beer has never been a craft beer and wasn’t produced by a craft brewery. Therefore, the suit says, “it is a wholesale fiction created by the defendant that was designed to deceive customers into buying the Craft Beer at a higher, inflated price.”
This isn’t the first time litigation like this has occured in the alcohol industry. Back in 2015, a man in California filed a class-action lawsuit against MillerCoors after he realized that Blue Moon wasn’t actually brewed at “Blue Moon Brewing Co.” The lawsuit was dismissed because the judge decided that the most basic online search for Blue Moon would lead a consumer to MillerCoors and it’s pretty much common knowledge that it isn’t craft beer.
Also in 2015, Templeton Rye whiskey was forced to change its labels and give refunds to some customers after a class-action lawsuit said the company intentionally mislead consumers about where the whiskey actually came from. The bottle said that it was an “Iowa product”, but it’s mostly distilled and aged in Indiana (like many rye whiskies). People who felt misled were able to get a $3 refund on every bottle they purchased.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka has been sued multiple times. Similar to the Walmart lawsuit, Tito’s usage of “handmade” has been the sticking point of all of their lawsuits. The idea is that consumers have been duped by the word “handmade” when the distillation process is actually done using machines.
The outcome of the Walmart lawsuit could be really important in the world of craft brewing. As giant conglomerates gobble up small, craft breweries like Pez, the line between craft and “other” will continue to be blurred. Perhaps its time for a craft beer certifier?