MolsonCoors’ Belgian Moon tastes okay but it’s no craft brew

Pints by Jason Foster

Relations between the big corporate brewers and craft brewers have never been particularly friendly. Much of craft is defined by its rejection of the corporate brewers’ practices, like using up to 40 per cent corn syrup in their pale lagers.

For most of the craft beer era the big boys mostly ignored small craft brewers, much like mosquitoes to a horse. However, craft beer has been the only segment with sales growth and it’s starting to take a noticeable bite out of the market (think black flies). So a few years ago, the corporate breweries changed strategies. They now have a two-part approach. First, they’re buying up successful craft breweries across the continent, adding them to their growing portfolios. In Canada that includes Granville Island, Creemore, Mill Street, Okanagan Springs and Unibroue.

The second strategy has been to create their own craft-y brands and market them as if they were craft beer. I call these beers “pseudo-craft”. They walk like craft beer and talk like craft beer, but they don’t taste like craft.

Worse, a key aspect of their marketing is to obscure or hide their corporate connections. They’re given craft-sounding names and the brewery is only found in small print on the label, if at all. Consumers think they’re buying beer from an independent brewery. Rickard’s, Alexander Keith’s and Shock Top are examples.

The beer that started all this faux-craft stuff is Blue Moon, created in 1995 in a small Coors brewery in Colorado. It’s a witbier, a Belgian-style wheat beer (think Hoegaarden), and nowhere on its packaging does it ever admit to being owned by Miller-Coors. Craft beer advocates have been furious at this beer for years, especially since it is the biggest-selling wheat beer in the United States. They argue it fools consumers and undermines the legitimacy of independent craft brewers.

I’m telling you all this because Blue Moon has slowly been infiltrating the Canadian market. It has been available on tap in Saskatchewan since last fall and starting popping up in liquor stores a couple months ago. It’s brewed by MolsonCoors in Montreal.

Except you won’t find a beer called Blue Moon anywhere in Canada because here it’s called Belgian Moon. The reason is quite convoluted and mostly due to corporate incompetence. Back when Coors launched Blue Moon in the U.S., no one thought to get the trademark in Canada. However, enterprising Toronto craft brewery Amsterdam Brewing did purchase the trademark as an attempt to block, or at least delay, the brand’s entry into Canada (and to seriously irk the corporate suits). In 2013 MillerCoors acquired the trademark from Amsterdam, which should’ve solved the problem, right? Wrong. You see, MillerCoors is a different company than MolsonCoors, though they both own Coors brands (long story). At the moment, the two companies are locked in a legal dispute over the rights to Miller products. So, as you can imagine, MillerCoors is in no mood to hand the Canadian trademark for Blue Moon to MolsonCoors.

I told you it was convoluted.

And there’s more. Making things even weirder is the fact that Blue Moon has been brewed in Montreal for years and sold in Canada as Rickard’s White. These days MolsonCoors claims the beers are different (they do appear to use different hop varieties), but when they launched Rickard’s White in 2007, they said the opposite. My palate tells me they’re hard to tell apart.

Anyway: Belgian Moon itself is a basically decent, fairly pedestrian beer. It has an orange character, a soft body and a sharp finish. It’s a nice enough summer beer, but stylistically falls short of what one would expect from a Belgian wit.

Its significance lies not in its taste, but in its status as the world’s premiere example of the corporate brewers’ fast and loose relationship with the truth.

Maybe you don’t care if the beer, whatever its name, is brewed by one of the largest brewery corporations in the world. Fair enough. It’s the deception that irks me. Belgian Moon cans do say it is a Coors product but you’d be hard-pressed to find that in the small print. Much more prominent are phrases like “artfully crafted” (which, oddly, they have trademarked) and a poetic description of the beer as “the perfect combination of orange peel and coriander”.

They’re trying to lead drinkers into thinking they’re buying a craft beer from a small brewery. I call that dishonest.

Blue Moon, Belgian Moon, Rickard’s White — no matter what they call it, it’s all pseudo-craft to me. Buyer beware.