Budweiser vs. 21st Amendment


A version of this story originally appeared in SF Weekly.


It’s good to be king, but it sucks when the people revolt.

Budweiser, self-proclaimed King of Beers, got a nice little taste of la révolution du bière over the weekend. That’s because mid-Friday afternoon, the marketing gurus at Anheuser-Busch InBev, the global beer corporation that owns Budweiser (or perhaps the company’s summer interns), green-lighted this doozy of a tweet:

Beer drinkers across the country immediately interpreted it as a subtweeted cheap shot at “Hell or High Watermelon,” the fruity summer offering from San Francisco’s 21st Amendment Brewery. And they were not pleased.

It’s not readily apparent how Budweiser was hoping people would respond, but the situation soon took on the feel of a car crash/train wreck/interplanetary spacecraft collision/similarly sickening but morbidly entertaining catastrophe. Craft beer lovers took to Twitter in force, some merely declaring their love for 21st Amendment, others calling out the Belgian beer giant for attacking smaller breweries in desperation to sell their “mass-produced Horse Piss,” per one irate response.

The latest episode in Budweiser’s new effort to embrace its macro identity, the whole thing recalled their Super Bowl ad from earlier this year, in which the company called out brewers of pumpkin peach ale. Much to the Internet’s delight, it came out a few days later that AB InBev had recently purchased Elysian Brewing, who make a pumpkin peach ale. You’d think AB InBev would have taken a cue from all the bad press that followed (or their steadily declining U.S. sales volumes), but instead, they doubled down.

And the pro-watermelon camp gleefully pointed out the hypocrisy of Friday’s fighting words, given AB InBev’s other holdings:

The ongoing flurry of support made for some great advertising for 21st Amendment; so great, in fact, that it led some people to speculate that it could be a sign of a secret buy-out. Given that 21st makes a beer called “Brew Free or Die,” the idea of selling out seems less-than-likely.

And in fact, Shaun O’Sullivan, co-founder and brewmaster at 21st, confirmed to SF Weekly in an email that they have no intentions of selling to AB InBev.

As for the events of Friday afternoon, he wrote that, “It was a crazy thing that happened and great to see it galvanize the craft beer community.”

Unfortunately for Bud, the bad news didn’t stop there. A burger cook-off/Budweiser branding extravaganza they organized in St. Louis, where Anheuser-Busch originated, apparently left many attendees both pissed and hungry when there weren’t enough burgers for everyone who’d purchased tickets. Which, it seems, was sort of the point. Unsurprisingly, this too set off a stream of angry Internet rants for them to deal with, all of which must have the company’s social media team working overtime.

It’s ok Bud, everybody has a bad week now and then. But if we may, a few words of advice:

1. Don’t be a dick.
2. Don’t read the comments.