Is it a shocking upset or a sign of change in the industry? 

Tim Nelson
April 02, 2019
Annie Campbell

Beer fests can best be described as the province of flannel-wearing, beard-having, craft beer nerds. Put more politely, they’re events where small, mostly independent breweries can show off their latest and greatest work to attendees in search of rare, high-quality brews they’d have a hard time finding at their local bar or convenience store. 

That’s why it’s so shocking that a new take on an old AB Inbev macrobrew took home top honors at the 2019 Missouri Beer Fest—as voted by attendees themselves. Much to the chagrin of some independent distributors, ‘Naturdays’, a strawberry lemonade variation on frat favorite Natural Light, won the people’s choice award at the Columbia, Missouri event. According to Forbes, there was no denying that Naturdays was the top brew: it took home around 10% of votes from the roughly 1,500 attendees, outpolling past award winners by a significant margin and crushing every 2019 runner-up. 

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The announcement that an AB Inbev beer took home the trophy elicited some boos and groans from the crowd, but the fact that there exists a macrowbrew out there that otherwise discerning drinkers actually like might signal a broader change in the beer world. There’s been a proliferation—arguably an oversaturation— of craft breweries in recent years. Brewer’s Association data suggests there were 6,266 craft breweries operating as of 2017, a number that’s likely grown since. That translates to average of almost 125 craft breweries per U.S. state

Combining an oversaturated market with the condescension of some craft beer fans might push casual drinkers to opt for familiar brands. Plus, with big beer conglomerates like AB Inbev have snatching up craft brands (and the attendant brewing expertise), one could argue that it has the effect of making their entire beer lineup a bit stronger. 

It also doesn’t hurt that Naturdays—whether one wants to admit it or not— might just be a good, enjoyable beer. We liked it, and at least one expert on hand at Missouri’s brewfest had to admit that Naturdays exceeded his expectations. 

"It's extremely light heading into summertime,” Joe Priesmeyer, who’s worked with AB Inbev for 30 years along his path to becoming president of N. H. Scheppers Distributing, told Forbes. “I've tasted some really weird beers at the event, but dang this one is really special."  

Is craft beer dead? Hardly. But at a time when breweries of all shapes and sizes are figuring out how to stay afloat amid shifting consumer tastes, don’t be shocked when bigger brands start pumping out more unorthodox beers. They just might pick up some awards.