A Cincinnati man and craft beer champion named Matthew Adam filed a lawsuit on Friday claiming that Wal-Mart’s private label beer, aptly produced under the name “Trouble Brewing,” is in fact not a “craft” brand and is thus meant to deceive consumers and inflate prices to compete with actual craft brands.
The Troublesome Brewing beers, which include the Cat’s Away IPA, After Party Pale Ale, Round Midnight Belgian White, and Red Flag Amber, are currently sold in 3,000 Wal-Mart stores across 45 states, the lawsuit states.
Troublesome Brewing, which is labeled on its beer cans as being located in Rochester, New York, is reportedly a fake brand being marketed as a craft brewery, while actually being brewed industrially by a larger brand.
Reports of Wal-Mart’s questionable beer brand have been circulating among major news outlets since before the lawsuit was filed—the Washington Post commented on Trouble Brewing’s illegitimacy as a craft beer in January, and the beer was also reported on by Business Insider as a competitor to Budweiser in June — but the lawsuit brings to attention that the Trouble Brewing beers are not only being incorrectly sold alongside small and independent brewers’ products, but that the company name is not legitimate at all.
In fact, it’s unclear exactly where the beer is coming from. According to the lawsuit, Wal-Mart is listed on filings with the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) under Winery Exchange Inc., a company now operating as WX Brands, which “develops exclusive brands of wine, beer, and spirits for retailers around the world” with offices in Novato, California, and London.
However, the brewery address listed on the TTB filings is that of Genesee Brewing in Rochester, which itself is owned by North American Breweries, a larger corporation that produces industrial beers including Genesee, Labatt Blue, and — according to the lawsuit — Costa Rican lager.
According to the Brewers Association, the trade organization that represents craft breweries in the United States, a craft brewery is defined as one that is “small, independent, and traditional”— “small” meaning it produces 6 million barrels or less of beer per year; “independent” meaning less than 25 percent of the brewery is owned or controlled by another alcoholic beverage company (that itself is not a craft brewer); and “traditional” meaning that a majority of the total volume of beer produced gets its flavor from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and fermentation (for example, the beer’s grain bill is made up mostly of malted barley, rather than watered down with brewing adjuncts like corn or rice).
Clearly, wherever Troublesome Brewing beer is coming from, it is none of these three things.
Even more mysterious is that although Trouble Brewing was reported to have made its debut on store shelves in 2016, craft beer drinkers were questioning the difficult-to-define brand’s legitimacy long before then: Confused users of the popular beer reviewing website RateBeer.com posted questions about Trouble Brewing’s origins as far back as 2009.
Here's one consumer's review of Cat's Away IPA on BeerAdvocate:
“Tasted like [Budweiser] with some city hops, but after a couple swigs, the hop flavor gets lost in the malty backbone. Very dry, and slightly over carbonated. But it is cheap, and made for Walmart, so what might one expect? It's no [Torpedo] IPA, but at about a buck per brew and being a Walmart store brand brew, it's OK for the masses. But I'll pass next time…” said user BoerBeer of Tennessee on August 22, 2016.
And this outright bewildered reviewer (KensWorld, Florida on June 6, 2016):
“Confused on this. My can says ‘Brewed and Bottled by Trouble Brewing Co. Rochester, NY.’ [...] Contract brewed at Genesee or ? Either way this hardly tastes like an IPA. As expected from Walmart.”