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Budweiser response ad misses the point

In response to a lawsuit accusing Budweiser beer of watered-down, parent company Anheuser-Busch InBev ran an advertisement in 10 newspapers around the country Sunday.

A class-action lawsuit accuses Budweiser of being watered down just before bottling, decreasing the final alcohol content by 3 percent to 8 percent. Bud's official alcohol by volume is listed at 5 percent. That number has acted as something of the standard for American beer, and it's a good measuring stick. Beers below 5 percent are generally considered light, while those above that mark are considered boozy.

The lawsuit has garnered some serious media attention, and the story still has legs despite an NPR report that an independent lab found Budweiser's ABV to be exactly as advertised.

article-0-186B285E000005DC-540_634x1187.jpgArguments on both sides of the debate are flawed. One of the main reasons people drink Budweiser is because it's not overly flavorful. Another is that it's affordable, which has a direct relation to flavor. Brewing with adjunct grains like rice cuts the cost of making Bud, but it also means there's less flavor in the beer than if it were brewed entirely with malted barley. If you like beers the style of a Budweiser, you could very well be drinking any of these more flavorful Pilseners. The lawsuit is essentially suing Bud for being what it purports to be.

For all the flaws in the lawsuit, Anheuser-Busch InBev's response also comes off as petty. The ad is a bit tricky to decipher at first, and I'm guessing many who read it didn't know what it was about right away. In defense of Bud, the company points out that they've delivered millions of cans of safe drinking water to those who need it. That's wonderful and admirable, but it's got nothing to do with the issue at hand. Lance Armstrong did a tremendous amount for charity, but that fact has no bearing on whether or not he used performance enhancing drugs to win the Tour de France.

You may think that all craft beer geeks are Budweiser haters, but that isn't true, either. I've yet to meet a brewer who has looked down on Bud. In fact, in a conversation a couple of weeks ago with Jim Koch, the founder of Boston Beer Co. and maker of Samuel Adams, I got a very nuanced answer about Bud and the other big brewers.

"For what they do, they do it extremely well," said Koch. "Nobody can make beer cheaper than they can do it. And the quality standards are very high. I came from a background of quality. People ask you, 'Isn't quality totally subjective?' If something's totally subjective than it's completely meaningless and why talk about it? But you can define quality. Quality is conformance to intentions, i.e., did you produce what you intended to produce? And if you produce exactly what you intended to produce, that's a quality product. You may or may not like it, but you are at least tasting the brewer's intention in that beer."

As far as anyone knows Bud is produced exactly as it's intended to be. Whether you like it or not, that's all you can ask for.

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