When Wal-Mart launched its own faux craft beer brands in 2016, we more or less rolled our eyes. Yes, it sucks to have low-quality beers produced specifically for Wal-Mart masquerading as the real deal and placed next to respected craft brands on the store shelves, but it didn’t seem like there was really anything to be done about the situation. But now, thanks to a new lawsuit, Wal-Mart may actually have to pay up for its deceptive marketing practices.
This week, a new class action lawsuit was filed against Wal-Mart from a plaintiff in Ohio—you can read the entire text of the lawsuit here. The suit alleges that by inventing a fictitious brewery, “Trouble Brewing,” Wal-Mart sought to deceive drinkers into thinking they were consuming a legitimate craft beer from a hip, young brewery just hitting the market. To which we can only say: Of course this is what Wal-Mart did, because that’s what they do. Whether the judge buys the tactic as legitimately deceptive is another matter.
The four beers in question come in a mixed 12-pack in more than 3,000 U.S. Wal-Mart locations, under the name Trouble Brewing. A “Box of Trouble” contains 12 oz cans of Cat’s Away IPA, After Party Pale Ale, ‘Round Midnight Belgian White, and the ironically named Red Flag Amber Ale. How fitting is that?
In reality, the “Trouble Brewing” beers are brewed by Genesee Brewing Co., dependable producers of the well-known college staple Genny Cream on the East Coast. Genesee is itself under the North American Breweries parent corporation, which also manages Pyramid, Magic Hat and Labatt USA. They are owned by Florida Ice & Farm Co., a Costa Rican company that also owns a number of Costa Rican beer brands. Quite the rabbit hole for a phony brewery, Wal-Mart. The lawsuit alleges that the parent company is by far too large to market itself as “craft beer,” exceeding the Brewers Association definition of less than 6 million barrels of annual production. To quote the lawsuit:
“Rather, it is a wholesale fiction created by the defendant that was designed to deceive consumers into purchasing the “craft beer” at a higher, inflated price.”
But before you get all excited by the thought that the craft brewing industry might win a battle against the megalith that is Wal-Mart, you should probably consider that precedent suggests the opposite is at least equally likely. A class action lawsuit was previously brought against Coors, claiming that its Blue Moon brand was likewise deceiving drinkers about its origins, and the suit was ultimately dismissed by the judge. The issue here will likely come down to whether the greater degree of deception present is enough to constitute a problem.
Until then, we’ll just have to wait and see. We’ve yet to try Wal-Mart’s beer in the Paste office, but it’s not the kind of thing that is high on our priority list.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer guru. You can follow him on Twitter.