BUD LIGHT IPA: Don’t laugh – you know it’s going to happen.
What might’ve been a sacrilege just a year ago seems inevitable today. And when it happens, craft beer will have only itself to blame, as Anheuser-Busch Inbev laughs all the way to the bank.
Bud Light IPA is inevitable because neither “Bud Light” nor “IPA” mean what they used to .
It’s true, Bud Light is still generic, watery, insipid, mass-produced, rice-based, fizzy, yellow liquid. It is anti-craft beer.
It is also the No. 1 beer brand in America, and it is a brand that now extends far beyond the light-beer segment.
Consider Bud Light Platinum and those fruity Bud Light O-Ritas. Neither taste anything like actual Bud Light, but the O-Ritas, especially, fly off the shelves, at least partly because of that familiar label.
As the company’s successful launching of an extensive music series (Bud Light Music First) and special-event venues (Bud Light Hotel at the Super Bowl) showed, the brand can be applied to almost anything.
“Bud Light” doesn’t mean just beer, anymore. It has become what marketing gurus call a “lifestyle brand” – one that implies fun and sociability.
Meanwhile, IPA no longer means just India pale ale.
Thanks to the competitive ingenuity of American brewers, the classic, 300-year-old style has morphed into something other than a pale, strong, well-hopped British ale with a solid malt backbone.
These days, IPA can be dark (Harpoon Black IPA) or light (Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA), or super bitter (Stone Ruination) or spicy (Flying Dog Raging Bitch) or fruity (Boxcar Mango Ginger IPA).
It can be funky (Victory Wild Devil), it can be low in alcohol (Firestone Walker Easy Jack), it can be superstrong (Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA). It doesn’t even have to be an ale (Samuel Adams Double Agent India Pale Lager).
Add in our apparently insatiable thirst for hops, and I think what we’re seeing is the evolution of IPA into just another term for craft beer.
Don’t believe it? Just belly up to a bar sometime and listen. Increasingly, patrons aren’t requesting a specific brand; they’re ordering a generic IPA.
So, IPA is just hanging there for the picking – a development that surely has not gone unnoticed by the marketing execs at ABI, especially now that rival Pabst has resurrected long-lost Ballantine IPA.
I don’t see them producing a Shock Top IPA, since that label is aimed at the sweet tooth. True, their takeover of Goose Island and Blue Point gives them a toehold in the IPA market, but why stop there?
Why wouldn’t ABI take it one step further and appropriate the term for its biggest-selling brand?
Introducing Bud Light IPA.
Some simple homebrewing experimentation reveals that it’s not as big of a jump as you might imagine.
I picked up a handful of compressed hop pellets at Mount Airy’s Malt House Ltd. Owner Scott Wikander steered me towards varieties known for their distinctive aroma: Cascades, Sorachi Ace, Chinook, Amarillo and Simcoe. I cracked open five bottles of cold Bud Light (saving the sixth as a “control”), dropped a pellet or two in each, re-sealed and stored them in the fridge for a week. The process was a very rough approximation of dry-hopping, the addition of hops after fermentation.
A week later, there was a faint aroma of flowery hops in each of the bottles, especially the one spiked with Simcoe, which now was reminiscent of Founders All Day IPA.
Because bitterness typically is not extracted from hops without boiling, my experiment had little impact on flavor. It still tasted like Bud Light.
Which is exactly how I’d imagine they’d make Bud Light IPA: An appealing hop aroma, but with a nondescript, lowest-common-denominator taste, like everything else made by Anheuser-Busch. And, bonus, because it’s relatively low in alcohol (4.2 percent), it would allow the company to cash in on craft beer’s emerging “session IPA” category.
In other words, an India pale ale in name only.