Anheuser-Busch is counting on civic pride to make its next product a smash seller: beer named after America's various beer-drinking cities, based on their area codes.
And while it's a proven fact that Houstonians are easy targets for anything that bears our area code -- much like Texans are easy prey for advertisers who hawk their product as the "best in Texas" or decorate it with a Lone Star flag -- there's uneasy concern in the craft beer world that the beer giant is simply exploiting this tendency to sell a low-quality product and undermine craft brewing in the process.
"The AB-InBev move to trademark area codes is a marketing strategy that reflects the push-back of the craft beer community in the movement to drink local, craft beer as opposed to foreign-owned mass-produced products," said Leslie Sprague, who runs the Houston craft beer blog Lushtastic.
"I was unaware you could trademark a string of numbers," Sprague continued. "This could start an increasingly silly string of law suits over seemingly arbitrary number strings with cultural significance."
Indeed, with this latest trademarking move, AB InBev's intention seems to be to sell city-specific beer in markets that aren't yet saturated with craft breweries of their own. Small-scale craft brewers like Southern Star and upcoming breweries like 8th Wonder Brewing have traditionally been the counterpoints to large conglomerates like AB InBev, brewing craft beer that represents the tastes and interests of the cities in which they operate. Adjunct lagers like Budweiser "going native" could be a huge threat to Houston's burgeoning breweries, which rely almost exclusively on support from local residents.
But Brock Wagner, founder of Saint Arnold, is cautiously willing to give AB a little bit more leeway.
"It is curious that they are grabbing these area codes," he said. "I'm not sure if it is an offensive or defensive maneuver by them."
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Either way, Houston's largest craft brewery doesn't seem too bothered by the news. The Belgian-owned AB InBev may have a tough row to hoe in cities like Houston where local products are increasingly trumping those of outsiders.
"Somebody here asked if they need to put 011 in front," Wagner said, "because of their foreign ownership."