“Hey Bartender, Give me a Real Domestic”

July 30,2010 by 27 Comments

Domestic Beer Happy Hour

“Does your happy hour special for domestics include Fat Tire?” I asked our waitress.

Before she could speak I already knew the answer. It was a hopeless ritual I was reciting, not an honest question.

The waitress quickly confirmed what I had suspected – domestic beer specials do not include American craft breweries. Furthermore, the beers they do include – Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Coors Light, are all owned by foreign companies.

What’s going on here?

What is Domestic Beer?

Happy Hours in bars and restaurants across the country are known for their domestic beer specials.

“Join us at Happy Hour from 5-7pm for $1.50 Domestic Drafts!”

And we know what that means. The light American lagers like Bud and Miller are on sale, so we can unwind after work in pitchers of flavorless beer. Except these beers aren’t American, and that is exactly my beef.

Let’s quickly review the ownership of the Big 3:

  • Anheuser-Busch InBev – Headquartered in Leuven, Belgium.
  • SABMiller – Headquartered in London, England.
  • Molson Coors – Joint headquarters in Montreal, Canada and Denver, Colorado.

So Molson Coors can’t decide on a home but none of these breweries are 100% American companies. And what is the true definition of domestic?

Domestic: of, relating to, or originating within a country and especially one’s own country (Merriam-Webster)

Now I know that I am taking this very literally. In the context of happy hour it means “cheap, light beers are $1.50.” I’m not ignorant enough to think it is a patriotic thing. It’s a money thing. Before craft beer took off in America, you had two categories: domestics and imports, with imports being the exotic and more expensive choice. Bars can afford to discount the cheap beer because it’s cheap for them too.

But times have changed.

Here’s a Better Idea

Now I like saving money as well as the next guy (not that I would ever buy that piss, but that’s not the point), but I’m also a pretty patriotic guy. And if you offer me a “domestic” beer in America, it better damn well be American. I’m equally passionate about the American craft beer industry, and to not include them in the domestic category, well, that just really grinds my gears.

So here’s a better idea for a bar that wants to set themselves apart from the pack – have a real domestic beer happy hour.

Discount your American Microbrews. Hell, even mark up your macros during those times to encourage this domestic imbibing. It won’t look good on paper, but people will talk, and they will come. Some of the best business ideas come from looking at what your competitor is doing and doing the opposite.

I know I’m looking at a very idealistic future. To be more realistic, let’s just change the friggin’ name. Keep the beers the same, but don’t call it domestic, call it something else. But what?

About Billy Broas

He is the founder of The Homebrew Academy, a BJCP beer judge, and the homebrewing expert on the Rocky Mountain PBS television show Colorado Brews. He lives in the fine beer town of Denver, Colorado.

27 responses to ““Hey Bartender, Give me a Real Domestic””

  1. Matt Broas a/k/a Uncle Matt says:


    Have you ever tried or reviewed River Horse? Brewed in Lambertville, New Jersey.

    And since we are on the topic of the good ‘ol Graden State, what is your favorite Jersey Brew?

  2. Billy,
    Our happy hour choices are even more limited in South Dakota! I have been ordering a Grain Belt Premium when I hit happy hour at our local watering hole in Aurora, SD. It is made by the Schell’s Brewing Company in New Ulm, MN.

  3. I thought Miller and Coors merged some years ago to try to take on AB. So aren’t they the same company?

  4. Jorge says:

    How do you really feel about this Billy?

    I think times are changing slowly, but surely… see, before the internet, brands like bud light and budweiser were the few big enough to use mass media and educate (wrongly) about their “American Lagers”…

    Mainstreet just could not afford to brand their beers the same so that’s why we see those as domestic beers.

    Now that micro breweries are growing and can compete just as easy with big brands thanks to the internet, people are starting to realize that these companies are not really American… they just brand themselves as being one.

    Heck… bud light was the Official Mexican beer during the World Cup! WTF?

    Anyways… I want this to change as well…

  5. Billy Broas says:

    @Matt Never tried River Horse. To be honest I think the only Jersey brewery I’ve actually had is Flying Fish from Cherry Hill. They’re very good. Jersey isn’t so hot in the way of breweries, as Scott at http://thebrewclub.com will tell you. Luckily NY and Penn make up for it.

    @Dale Grain Belt Premium eh? Does that taste how it sounds? I picture farmers chugging that on the tractor lol.

    @Mike MillerCoors is a joint venture by the two companies. So it’s a whole seperate company, not a merger. The parent companies still operate independently. That’s another reason I like craft breweries, it’s not as damn confusing at these big corporations.

    @Jorge You’re totally right about what you said. Things are going in the right direction and the perception of The Big 3 = American is fading. I didn’t know that about the World Cup. Yea, WTF?

    I’d be really interested to see if any of the marketing changes at the bar/restaurant level. Keep your eyes open.

  6. bierfesten says:

    Now the economy is somewhat recovering but ‘shaky’ a report this week suggested Molson-Coors could be bought out by SAB-Miller to then dwarf AB-Inbev. Remember that Futurama episode where everything on earth is owned by 1 company or was it 2 ?

    I can’t stand ‘Well Specials’ a) what the fuck is a Well of beer b) why is it always the same 3 beers?

    In Canada its illegal to have ‘happy hour’ as that encourages drinking, so a bar may have a $1 off a certain crapshit beer on a particular day. No way that a decent craft beer is every $1 off, we just get used to paying $7/pint up here.

  7. Scott Steigerwald says:

    This reminds me of last New Year’s when I had some neighbors over the house. I had mostly craft beers, but had a few “domestics” for the uninitiated. One guy asked me where the beer is, I showed him where the beer was and started explaining the different craft beers. He turns to me as he grabs a Budweiser and says, “I’ll just have a good old American beer”.

    I bit my tongue, but wanted to inform him that his beer was not really American at all. Not anymore, anyway. And that all the craft beers were 100% American. Maybe next time…

  8. LOL… Billy, you were one of the patrons I hated back in the day when I was a bartender… j/k…

    Now that you’re in CO you should be experiencing some wonderful micro-brews… I’ve been partaking in a ton of brew myself… I think I’ve put on close to 15lbs in the 5 weeks we’ve been back in the U.S. in just beer weight…

    One thing I found interesting while living in South America is the difference between “domestic” and “imports.” As much as I love the Belgium Brewed Lager Stella Artois… the Argentina Brewed Stella Artois is a CRAP beer… To my understanding, most big brewers set up breweries in the different regions where they sell beer. My buddy Brent had no idea Stella Artois wasn’t brewed in New Zealand… A lot of big brewers have distributorships world wide because it’s cheaper to brew them there than ship the brew…

    As far as Anheuser Busch goes, they own Michelob, Rolling Rock, Red Hook, Modello, which owns Modello, Corona and Pacifico which is the majority of beer in Mexico… They also have their hands in a few craft breweries too… Anheuser Busch is the Satan of beer…

    @ bierfesten… $7 a pint… WTF??? I feel for you bro…

  9. BeerMeBrett says:

    The issue may be that you are knowledgeable when it comes to beer, whereas most people are not. That number is growing for sure (it’s about fucking time), but if you asked most people what country is the corporation that owns those “Big 3” beers, they would tell you “The U.S..” It’s a great secret to most when, honestly, it’s way out in the open if you dig just one layer deep. That is my feeling, anyway. They are like people who eat at McDonald’s and insist that the food is good: they are beyond saving! :-)

  10. Billy Broas says:

    @bierfesten Wow I did not hear about the Coors-Miller news and frankly it’s pretty scary. Would that move get past antitrust laws? Who knows anymore. I’m with you about well specials too. What a terrible way to market beer. Yea maybe effective, but terrible for its image. Happy Hour is illegal up there though? I definitely don’t go for the “domestic beers” but have no problem getting a few cocktails. Sooo yea it does encourage drinking lol.

    @Scott Ah man, that’s a perfect example of ignorance of most American beer drinkers. I think that really goes back to the whole Domestic vs. Import dichotomy. People really do view American microbrews as imports just because they are specialty. It our job to educate them. I hope you eventually show your friend the light.

    @Brian Yea I’ve had a couple of bartenders roll their eyes when I go into my domestic beer spiel. I’m sure I’m a pain in the ass lol. Interesting the difference you saw in Stella Artois. I haven’t traveled enough to experience that. You’re right though, the big brewers do set up shop locally to save money on shipping. the craft breweries are strarting to venture into this too. Stone is looking to build a brewery in Europe for example. Hope I’m not responsible for any of that 15lbs. Although I’m not too sorry if I am. If it was good beer, that’s what we call “good weight” lol.

    @BeerMeBrett The education issue is definitely the root of the problem. It goes back to what I was saying to Scott about domestics vs. imports, and how a lot of people don’t realize we have a thriving craft beer scene HERE. The marketing of the Big 3 has also imprinted images of horses and American flags, which is hard to shake. We just have to wash away those images with some kick ass American craft beer. Thanks for the comment.

  11. dr dean says:

    I agree completely with your sentiment. But doubt it will change in my lifetime. The business/investing world talked about the mergers, but is doesn’t mean much to the average consumer.

    (Fat Tire-didn’t float my boat-but I will keep experimenting.)

  12. Azstrel says:

    OK, Billy,

    I am on your side of the fence with this. Brewerys/Bars/Restaurants would do well by listening to your advice here. I do long for the day to grab an IPA at a happy hour price.


  13. Roscoe says:

    What about brew taverns? Milly’s in Manchester NH brews there own beer and got rid of all “domestics” and imports. Good for them, I hope it becomes more popular!

  14. Quinn says:

    You’re my hero.

  15. Gerard Walen says:

    So funny, Billy. I was just discussing this exact same thing with my wife at a local sports bar that advertises “domestic” specials during Monday Night Football. They have two “real” domestic taps: A local micro Effinheimer and Yuengling. I assume neither are on special during the game.

  16. Billy Broas says:

    @Gerard Awful! I bet your right about those two beers not being on special. That’s one I hadn’t thought of – Yuengling! The oldest American brewery and it’s not usually counted as domestic…

    Someone on twitter brought up this same point about football season and how these “domestic specials” are now all over the place. Hmm maybe it’s time for a followup post reminding people to speak up?

  17. Fuck BMC, a complete and utter scam. Forcing shitty beer on Americans.

  18. Jorge says:


    I’ve been going to Four Peaks Brewery to watch the games or just staying home to drink home brew…


  19. Adam says:

    If I owned a bar, i’d have “Hoppy Hour” and discount all kick ass IPA’s!!!!

  20. Andrew says:

    This must be an old post judging by the previous comment dates but the problem lives on, and it’s not just in the US. I’ve got the same gripe although I’m located in Canada…

    ‘Domestic’ specials include beer like Budweiser and Bud Light (not brewed in Canada and headquartered off-continent) while even mass-marketed lagers produced domestically fall under the “Premium Import” category. What the hell?!

    • Billy Broas says:

      Hey Andrew, it’s an old post but I agree the problem still exists. I still it’s not specific to the States either. So annoying!

  21. John says:

    That’s why we don’t carry “domestic” on any of our 150 drafts… However we do have plenty of American brewed beers and even run specials on them!

  22. Jim says:

    So, the big 3 go away, then what? Get ready for $20.00 six packs. Who do you think is keeping the Man off of beer tax wise? Craft? Yeah right. Go ahead, criticize, but you need the big 3. If you don’t realize it, you are REALLY naive….

  23. sstrungis says:

    Old thread, but can’t resist chiming in.

    I have to agree with Jim one post up. The mass market beers do keep prices down across the board. In terms of pricing at the bar, many establishments sell the big three at a low price point. Others like Yuengling, and Sam Adams fall into the “Premium Beer” category and are marked up some. I happen to love Yuengling, but it makes me cringe to pay $4 a bottle in some bars. Maybe the green bottle fools people into thinking its an import.

    • Billy Broas says:

      I hear what you guys are saying but this is getting away from the main argument of the post, which is: 1) Companies not based in America shouldn’t be labeled “Domestic”
      2) Actual American breweries should be included in “Domestic Happy Hours”

  24. Jamie says:

    Sign of the times and more bad things to come? Anheuser Busch bought 49% of Fordham and Dominion Brewing in some sort of “distribution” deal a while back?
    When Sam decides to sell out Dogfish to Moleskin-Curs, or some other similar Satanic industrial clone, I believe I shall take up wine.
    The corn and rice kings didn’t get that big by being stupid. They will continue to do whatever they can to buy legislation to try and limit access to their market, and when all else fails, simply buy up those that threaten their market share. Assimilation by the Borg is inevitable. :(

    Not exactly the same but similar to the Fat Tire and Blue Moon labeling scams.
    I still laugh/cringe when the restaurant waiter or waitress offers a choice of “domestic” or “import” beers, usually foisting the cold brewed, electronically aged, genuine pee flavored 30 pack, corn and rice swill as “domestic”, while lumping Sierra and the other area prevalent craft brews in with the orange slice crap and calling them “imports”. I long ago gave up attempting to educate them and now rarely bother eating or drinking out. Too many bars with still too few choices. Besides, no risk of driving buzzed and a better class of people when I stay home and drink carry out or home brew with the neighbors. What is it that they say… think globally but act locally? The craft brew pubs and a few others offer some exception, but surrounding myself with Curs & Budinkel drinkers never really lets me get comfortable, so why pay a premium for the displeasure?
    Yeah… I’m a snob, deal with it. 😉

Leave a Reply