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The battle between Big Beer and craft brewers is getting ugly

Craft beer’s beef with Big Beer is no mystery. However, recently, the rivalry between craft brewers and the biggest beer companies in the world has reached a boiling point.

Scottish craft brewer BrewDog just released an ad taking a shot at Big Beer’s marketing, with a commercial mocking Guinness’ focus on aesthetics over quality.

“Big beer advertising is b——-,” BrewDog said in a press release. “If you have to spend millions of pounds on ad campaigns to get people to drink your beer, the brewing is probably being neglected.”

In 2012, Diageo, the parent company of Guinness, was forced to apologise for threatening to withdraw support from a contest organised by a Scottish trade organisation if BrewDog won. As a result, minutes before BrewDog was presented an award, the craft brewer was swapped out with a different company. Clearly, BrewDog hasn’t forgotten the beer giant’s meddling.

Meanwhile, in the US, the Super Bowl provided the perfect battleground for the bitter rivals.

During the big game, Budweiser aired its follow up to last year’s controversial ad that mocked craft brewers. This year, the beer brand took the chance to state it was “not small,” “not sipped,” and “not a hobby” — again, clearly snubbing craft beer.

Once again, craft brewers, including BrewDog, took to Twitter to snipe at Budweiser.

After the game, Budweiser got a major marketing boost from Peyton Manning, the Broncos’ quarterback and partial owner of Anheuser-Busch InBev wholesalers. Manning’s shoutout — which was not paid for by Budweiser — was valued at more than $3 million in media exposure.

Craft brewers weren’t pleased that Manning took his time in the spotlight to highlight a beer brand that already had millions of dollars to spend on marketing. So, the Brewers Association congratulated the quarterback on his win by sending him a care package of more than 4,000 small and independent craft beers.

“During the off-season, we’d invite you to visit your local craft brewery and learn more about the booming craft brewing industry, which has been scoring lots of touchdowns with beer lovers,” reads the letter from Julia Herz, the craft beer program director of the Brewers Association.

These incidents are just the most recent in years of sniping back and forth between Big Beer and craft brewers. The conflict has heated up in recent years as big brewers have been forced to recognise craft beer as legitimate competition.

While AB InBev and MillerCoors still make up 72% of all US beer sales, craft beer has been rapidly growing. As a result, instead of simply ignoring craft beer as a niche market, Big Beer has gone on the attack.

When it comes to marketing, major companies are taking notes from craft beer, with an increased emphasis on stunts, social media, and authenticity. That can be twisted into some ironically anti-craft beer messages. For example Budweiser’s Super Bowl ads are authentic in that they emphasise what makes Budweiser unique — that it is aggressively not craft beer.

Budweiser adYouTube/BudweiserBudweiser’s 2015 Super Bowl ad

Recognising craft as competition has also resulted in a number of acquisitions of craft brewers by major companies. In December 2015 alone, Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired craft brewers Arizona’s Four Peaks Brewing Company, the UK’s Camden Town Brewery and Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery

The wave of acquisitions has only increased tensions between independent brewers and Big Beer.

“People are genuinely concerned: Are the big brewers starting to even monopolize craft brewing?” Darby Hughes, trends analyst at food and beverage brand-building boutique Quench, told Business Insider.

After AB InBev’s acquisition of Camden Town, BrewDog yet again stepped in with a comment on Twitter:

For many craft brewers, acquisition is fundamentally incompatible with producing quality, craft products.

Many beer drinkers agree. According to a study by Bloomberg, six out of 10 drinkers believe a brewer’s independence is important when picking a craft beer.

The rivalry between craft and Big Beer doesn’t seem like it will end any time soon. Craft beer is continuing to grow — as are major beer companies’ appetites for craft acquisitions. Expect even uglier confrontations in the rest of 2016.

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