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Judge brewers by their beer

By Tom Long, Special to CNN
December 21, 2012 -- Updated 1754 GMT (0154 HKT)
People sample beers at Savor, a craft beer show, at the National Building Museum in Washington in June.
People sample beers at Savor, a craft beer show, at the National Building Museum in Washington in June.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • MillerCoors CEO: Small brewers want to exclude large brewers' products in craft category
  • He says his company wants to be judged not by its size, but the quality of its products
  • Tom Long: Company acquired a craft brewery nearly 25 years ago
  • He says the company's craft, import brands operate autonomously

Editor's note: Tom Long is the chief executive officer of MillerCoors. He wrote this column in response to a CNN Opinion piece by Steve Hindy of The Brooklyn Brewery: "Don't let big brewers win beer wars."

(CNN) -- The other day, the industry group representing small brewers issued its latest definition of what qualifies as a "craft" beer. Based on our size, that definition excluded us, even though we brew some of the most popular craft beers in the marketplace.

We respect the fact that some of our fellow brewers would want to differentiate themselves, but we're convinced that the ultimate assessment of our beers will not come from an industry organization, but instead from America's beer drinkers.

We know that no matter what style of beer it is, we will ultimately be judged by the quality of our beers. We like that, because we are confident that the quality of our beers stacks up well versus that of any brewer of any size, anywhere.

Tom Long
Tom Long

Now, because we are best known for brewing some of America's biggest light beers, some people may be skeptical about that claim. We urge those people not to confuse the style of a beer with the quality of the beer. Whether it's a light lager designed to provide the refreshment many American beer drinkers seek, or a vigorously hopped IPA designed to provide the nice bite many other beer drinkers desire, our brewmasters are obsessed with crafting superior-quality beers within each style.

While we may be big, we are still a company of beer people who take great pride in our beer culture and heritage, tracing our roots to two visionary immigrant entrepreneurs who opened breweries in the mid-19th century, Frederick Miller and Adolph Coors.

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We're also proud of our craft heritage. Nearly a quarter century ago, we acquired the Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., which was making great beers, but struggling financially like many smaller brewers of that era. Leinie's, as it's affectionately known, was founded in 1867, and we promised we weren't presumptuous enough to tell it how to brew its beers.

We've kept that promise, and the Leinenkugel family -- now on its sixth generation in the business -- is experimenting more than ever with new styles and flavors, including the popular lemonade-flavored Summer Shandy.

Then there's Blue Moon Belgian White. Launched in 1995 by brewmaster Keith Villa, Blue Moon exposed U.S. beer drinkers to Belgian-style ales at a time when they were not widely known. After a quiet start, Blue Moon has gone on to become the best-selling craft beer in the country. In fact, Blue Moon introduces many consumers to craft, opening their eyes to the diversity of beer.

The brewers of Leinie's, Blue Moon and other smaller craft and import beers operate autonomously so they can maintain their own unique personalities and keep experimenting and pushing limits.

As a large brewer, we do not view the emergence of craft beer as a threat, because we know that innovation is essential to the American beer industry. In fact, we appreciate the vital role craft beers play within our industry. And we believe it's good for beer that there are more breweries and more brands available to American beer drinkers than at any other time in U.S. history.

We're determined to continue to play a leading role in that innovation. And whatever style beer you might prefer, all we ask is that you judge us by the quality of the beer in the glass.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Tom Long.

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