America: Beer Name of the Free
Anheuser-Busch recently made headlines for its new Budweiser cans with “America” labeled on the front, but make no mistake—it isn’t the first beer to bear the name of this country. Surly Brewing Co. released #Merica pre-Prohibition lager last year. Rogue Brewing has sold American Amber Ale since 1995. Prairie Artisan Ales unveiled ‘Merica saison in 2013. And now, to underscore the fact that the term “America” is still and will always be up for grabs to put on a beer, Erik Lars Myers of Mystery Brewing Co. in Hillsborough, North Carolina, is releasing his own “America, a ridiculously patriotic extra pale ale” this July.
First, a clarification: A-B InBev garnered headlines for its recently revamped packaging of Budweiser, which features large script letters spelling “America” front and center and other patriotic decorations like the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” written in silver. But, as many of those headlines misreported, Budweiser remains the name of the beer. It’s only a modified label.
“We’ve produced themed summer packaging for several years, and replacing Budweiser’s name with America is our boldest patriotic statement yet,” said Anheuser-Busch vice president Ricardo Marques in a statement.
But that patriotism, unfortunately, has had to embrace the fact that slapping “America” on a beer is not an exclusive right according to American law. Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump was able to trademark the phrase “Make America Great Again,” and American Airlines secured rights to its name because the term “America,” in both cases, is part of a greater, more specific whole.
A beer just called “America,” wouldn’t be and hasn’t been defensibly exclusive, even if A-B InBev claims nearly half of the U.S. beer market. Calling one’s beer “America” is still fair game, so long as you don’t mind others using the name, too.
At Mystery Brewing, Myers is proudly hoisting the flag of that freedom high with his own upcoming “America, a ridiculous patriotic extra pale ale.”
“Part of me just really likes putting stuff like this out,” said Myers. “It’s kind of a fun troll thing to do.”
The packaging makes good on both his beer’s name and intent: A bald eagle looks out regally from its central position on the label, and the bird is flanked by a background filled with “waves of grain” and “majestic mountains,” as Myers puts it. On one side of the can, in bold letters, the beer proudly announces that its ingredients consist of American-grown hops and barley.
Myers was going to put a flag on the logo, too, but that was denied by the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. It’s no matter: The label still remains so over-the-top that it would edge on garish if made into a shirt for an outdoor sporting store.
Budweiser’s packaging came just in time for the 240th anniversary of the country’s independence, the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, the Copa America coming to the U.S., and the looming presidential election. According to A-B InBev, which tracked more than 1 billion impressions of the “America” packaging, this timing seems adept: “The vast majority of those impressions were neutral or positive,” the company said in an email.
Other brewers appreciate the Budweiser marketing scheme, too. “You know, I’ve always looked at those cans with envy,” said Todd Haug, head of brewery operations at Surly Brewing. “It’s just so cool. Most craft breweries can’t afford to do a special holiday can for the Fourth of July.”
“But instead of just having the speciality can, we made the whole beer,” he continued. “We didn’t just stamp a flag on our package like Bud does, but we made a beer in honor of [the country].”
Surly’s #Merica pale ale, of which the brewery made 1,800 barrels this year, goes on sale from mid-May (for Memorial Day) and stays on the shelves through July. However, Haug expects it will sell out by mid-July this year. In the interest of full disclosure, #Merica does indeed have the stars and stripes and an eagle on the can.
“It was all about the beer and having fun, and this beer happened to be patriotic,” said Haug.
If patriotic fervor is proving to curry the favor of consumers as of late, then Myers’ latest move could point more brewers to cash in on Budweiser’s lab-tested, open-to-the-market strategy. For consumers, this is potentially exciting news: Who wouldn’t want a bevy of patriotic beers to choose from whenever the Fourth of July rolls around?
It’d be a long way from the founding of our country, as David McCullough depicts it in his book 1776. McCullough notes the disheartened state of British soldiers occupying Boston at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, who were plagued by discomforts such as “the incessant clamor of frogs,” mosquitoes and “the absence of decent beer” in America.
Myers only brewed one batch of his “America” extra pale ale, which he describes as “an easy drinker … not the most complex beer you could put in your mouth, but it’ll be nice on a hot day.”
“America, a ridiculously patriotic extra pale ale” will only be available in Mystery’s taproom in time for the Fourth of July, though some of the cans will be distributed in North Carolina after that date.
Bo McMillan is an editorial assistant at All About Beer Magazine.