Unlike most of the other people making fun of Budweiser this week, I actually drink it.
Not every night, or even every month. Not in a two-fisted, God-and-country, just-got-through-personally-strangling-a-grizzly-and-now-it’s-Miller-time sort of way.
But yeah, I prefer American lagers. Bud, Stroh’s, Rolling Rock. Or lagers from elsewhere on the continent: Carta Blanca, Corona, Labatt Blue. Or Pabst, and I’m not even being ironic.
So it’s with affection, or at least appreciation, that I look at Budweiser’s new labeling and say, “Huh?”
Starting May 23, the script “Budweiser” across 12-ounce cans and bottles will be replaced by the word “America.”
It’s a stirring tribute to this great land of ours, and of course, a desperate plea for patriotic citizens to start drinking Budweiser the way they did in the old days – say, before 2008, when Anheuser-Busch was guzzled through a corporate beer bong by a Belgian company called InBev.
“Pour me an ice-cold America, barkeep.” The inference is clear: Budweiser is as proudly a part of our very fabric as, say, pro wrestling. Or chop suey. Or Samuel Adams – the Founding Father, that is, not the beer.
The creative director of the branding company behind the switchover had a splendidly meaningless explanation of why, through Election Day, coolers will be stacked high with America.
“We thought nothing was more iconic than Budweiser,” said Tosh Hall of JKR, “and nothing was more iconic than America.”
It’s a tie, then, in the battle for iconic-ness. They’re both No. 1, just like in T-ball where no one keeps score.*
(*Except for particularly competitive parents, who keep track of things like hits and runs and which three beers now rank ahead of Budweiser in total sales, and also how alcohol consumption has dropped 15 percent since 1980, which not coincidentally is about when I finished college.)
But that’s just boring gray numbers. What’s important is that we all consider how fortunate we are to live in a country where “America” is not trademarked.
The object, of course, is for people to be talking about Budweiser, which we are.
What we’re not supposed to do is figure out that we’re overreacting to a basic packaging change.
“It’s not a huge branding move,” says Adam Padilla, CEO of a New York brand consulting company called BrandFire, “it’s a simple marketing gimmick to sell limited edition cans. No different from Snickers wrappers saying ‘Peanutopolis’ on them. It’s goofy and silly and it’s kind of genius.”
If your tastes run to microbrews with a crisp, nutty finish and just a hint of eggplant, you’re not going to drink a Budweiser no matter how much air time the new label managed to get on “Good Morning America.”
But if you ordinarily buy Coors Light or Miller Lite – No. 2 and No. 3 behind Bud Light on the list of top sellers – maybe you’ll try what used to legitimately be called the King of Beers.
The tradeoff, Padilla concedes, is an endless spill of tweets and memes mocking the brand, the beer and the big idea.
Exhibit 274,852: @Jeff_Gephart, a writer from California. “#Budweiser already makes us fat, loud, lazy, and stupid. So isn’t calling it ‘America’ just a little redundant?”
One muted Budweiser endorsement comes from Dean Bach, the owner of Dino’s Lounge and M-Brew in Ferndale.
“I like coming off the golf course and slamming an ice-cold Budweiser,” he says. “Budweiser is a slammable beer.”
Unfortunately if you’re InBev, Bach stops at one. “As an American, I like to see my American money stay in America,” he says, no matter what new name Budweiser puts on the label.
Bach, 47, says the top sellers at Dino’s are Bud Light from the tap and Pabst from the cooler. The close runner-up on draught is Axle IPA, imported from Royal Oak.
As for Bud, he says, “we don’t move much of it.”
Maybe that will change on the 23rd, when cans of America start rolling out of the Columbus, Ohio, brewery and 11 others.
Of course, if they were really America, they’d be made in China.