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Yankee Brew News Archive

Anheuser-Busch Launches Attack on Boston Beer Company

Originally Published: 12/96

By: Brett Peruzzi

Megabrewer Anheuser-Busch recently fired what may be the opening salvo of an all-out war between itself and contract brewers like the Boston Beer Company, brewer of the Samuel Adams line of beers.

Anheuser-Busch ran full page ads in mid-October in two major Massachusetts newspapers, The Boston Globe and the Springfield Union-News, with the headline "Which beer is brewed and bottled in New England?" Featured prominently in the ad layout were side-by-side bottles of Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Michelob. The body copy of the ad proclaimed that despite Sam Adams' attempt to "pretend to come from New England," it is really brewed by contract breweries around the country, a fact that Boston Beer Company has always admitted.

The ad further went on to list some of the bargain brand beers brewed at these same breweries, and then questioned why Samuel Adams cost more. The ad concluded by affirming Anheuser-Busch's quarter century of brewing in Merrimack, New Hampshire, and its commitment to "the finest ingredients and a time-honored brewing process." The bottom of the ad proclaimed, "Anheuser-Busch, Inc. Your New England Brewer."

The night before the newspaper ad ran, Dateline NBC ran a television story about an alleged expose on microbrewers that are really contract brewers. Prominently featured as a prime example was the Boston Beer Company.

Almost twelve minutes into the story, however, Dateline NBC admitted that their parent company, General Electric, was a shareholder in Redhook Brewing Company, which in turn is 25% owned by Anheuser-Busch.

On October 20, The Boston Globe's Business section featured a story on the recent spate of "attack ads" in which the advertiser's competitors are both named and attacked directly. Anheuser-Busch's campaign against Boston Beer received considerable mention in the article, and gave both the megabrewer and Boston Beer's Jim Koch a chance to comment on the controversy.

Anheuser-Busch's vice president of consumer awareness Francine I. Katz conceded it had been six years since her company had taken on a rival one-on-one. "It's uncommon but not unprecedented," the Globe quoted Katz as saying. The issue according to Anheuser-Busch, reported the Globe, was "truth in labeling."

Boston Beer chairman Jim Koch categorized the ad campaign as "like an air strike against Iraq," according to the Globe article. He rebuffed the price issue the ad mentioned, pointing out that Sam Adams uses more expensive hops and malts than most other beers, particular bargain brands, a fact that also appears on his product's labels. Koch believes a beer should be judged on taste, not where it is brewed.

Koch further speculated in the Globe article that the ads were "the first salvo of a barrage intended to soften up Sam Adams as Redhook comes flooding into the local market." Boston Beer Company's stock plummeted over 20% after it announced on October 23 that its orders were lower than expected. No tie to the stock drop and Anheuser-Busch's attack on its products was mentioned.

Redhook Ale Brewery, a West Coast-based brewer, recently opened a large brewery in southern New Hampshire. Anheuser-Busch's 25% ownership of Redhook also allows Redhook access to the extensive Anheuser-Busch distributor network.

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