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Beer

Blue Moon can be called craft brew

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A federal judge in California has said he isn't convinced MillerCoors tried to trick consumers into thinking its popular Belgian-style Blue Moon is a craft beer. (Reuters)

Just about any cheap swill can now be called craft beer –at least for the moment.

That’s because a federal judge tossed out a class action lawsuit last week saying that there are no regulations prohibiting a major brewer from trying to pass off one its products as a "craft beer," according to Courthouse News.

That includes the popular Belgian-style Blue Moon –made by MillerCoors which pumps out 70 million barrels a year.  

In April 2015, Evan Parent, a self-described "beer aficionado" and one-time Blue Moon fan, claimed in a class action lawsuit filed in California that Blue Moon doesn't meet the criteria for a craft beer because MillerCoors is not a "small, independent and traditional" craft brewery as defined by the Brewers Association, a trade organization for American craft brewers.

That definition includes that the production of the product be less than 6 million barrels of beer annually, the company be less than 25 percent owned or controlled by a non-craft brewer, and that the maker used only traditional or innovative brewing ingredients.

Parent argued that he bought Blue Moon at a premium based on "deceptive and misleading" marketing aimed at leveraging the burgeoning "craft" beer market.

MillerCoors argued that "no reasonable consumer" could have been misled by its "craft beer" and "Artfully Crafted" representations because MillerCoors doesn’t hide its ownership of Blue Moon on its label and website. And besides, there's no standard definition of "craft beer."

U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel agreed in a tentative ruling stating that there is no current regulation barring MillerCoors from placing Blue Moon Brewing Co. on its label instead of MillerCoors. 

The ruling is good news for big beer producers who have seen their market share slip at the same time as craft beer has grown to 11 percent of the market. And it comes amid a proposed merger of the world’s two largest beer: Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller -a union many small brewers fear will undermine the craft beer market.

Both MillerCoors, the domestic brewery 58% owned by SABMiller, and Anheuser-Busch have been snapping up craft brewers. A-B InBev’s has also bought distributors in New York, Colorado and California this year.

But the fight isn't over yet.

Judge Curiel is giving Parent and the other plaintiffs time to rephrase their claim, so we'll see what happens.