'Beer summit' raises issue of foreign-owned breweries

It wasn't until the hoopla over the White House "beer summit" that Joe Sixpack realized that his favorite, seemingly all-American brand might just be owned by foreigners.

While Middle Eastern and Chinese attempts to acquire U.S. ports and businesses raised ire and got much media attention in recent years, the loss of America’s top-selling beers to foreign ownership fell largely below the radar outside the nation's top brewing towns.

So it came as a rude shock to some when TV commentators noted that the first choices of President Barack Obama, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge, Mass., police on Thursday afternoon included two domestic beers owned by outsiders — Bud Light and Blue Moon — and a Jamaican import, Red Stripe.

Obama's Bud Light is brewed by St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, which supplies 48.9 percent of the market, making it the country's biggest producer. But a Belgian-Brazilian giant acquired it in November 2008. Now called Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Leuven, Belgium-based company is the world's top brewer.

Blue Moon's label says it's produced by the Blue Moon Brewing Co. of Colorado. Actually, the Belgian-style wheat beer chosen by Crowley is a Coors brand. Coors merged with the Canadian brewer Molson in 2005 and considers itself binational, with headquarters in both Toronto and Golden, Colo. While Blue Moon was developed at the company's SandLot Brewery at Coors Field in Denver, then produced in Memphis, it is now made north of the border.

Coors brands are now produced and marketed by a joint venture called MillerCoors. Its partner, Miller Brewing Co., which has a Fort Worth plant, is a wholly owned unit of British-based SABMiller, formerly Johannesburg-based South African Breweries.

That means that 78 percent of the market is held by companies with controlling foreign interests.

If imports are added, the total climbs close to about 95 percent, leaving more than 1,500 brewpubs, regional and craft brewers sharing the remainder.