Counterfeit Beer: Will Craft Brews Go The Way Of Vapes & Spirits

There’s a troubling trend on the rise around the world, and it’s finally getting some much-needed attention from the relevant authorities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), roughly twenty-five percent of all alcohol consumption worldwide is currently linked to sales of so-called “unrecorded” alcohol products.

Sadly, this alarming phenomenon isn’t limited to peppery wines purportedly from the Mediterranean or flat, ostensibly Russian vodkas with metallic aftertastes. So-called “dank vapes” — which are essentially cheap replicas of actual vape mods and tanks — have saturated the online vape market, causing everything from poor flavor to outright explosions on the user end that cause serious injury. Even branded vape juice – the electronic smoking mixture usually made up of nicotine, propylene glycol (PG), and vegetable glycerin (VG) – has fallen victim to counterfeiting. This concerning pattern not only generates unwarranted negative publicity for legitimate companies; it also puts the health and safety of unwitting consumers at serious risk.

In recent years, even premium brands such as those associated with Big Beer and cigar companies have fallen victim to the rise of counterfeiters around the world. To understand why it’s important to examine how counterfeiting these products became a viable enterprise in the first place. In this post, we explore the reasons behind the trend — as well as the likelihood of craft beers following suit as they emerge into the mainstream as a popular line of products in their own right.

How Spirits, Cigars & Vapes Became Popular Targets for Counterfeiters

The substantial increase in counterfeiting and bootlegging operations over the past decade is attributable to two things in particular. In the case of spirits, cigars, and beer, it’s the advent of online retail in the form of websites like Wine Selection and JR Cigars. While sites like these deal perfectly above board, the meteoric rise of the popularity of online retailers (presumably due to the convenience factor) has, in turn, created an opening for sites with more spurious sellers to ensnare oblivious shoppers with too-good-to-be-true prices or irresistible deals.

In the case of vapes, the rise of counterfeiting can be attributed to poor regulation and/or product standardization. As an industry in its relatively nascent stages, vapes have only just recently attracted the attention of state and federal legislators. While virtually all vape companies now include QR codes and other methods of product authentication in their product packaging (for use on the manufacturer’s site or mobile app), counterfeiters had already capitalized on the vape industry’s poor security infrastructure many years ago.

While so-called “dank vapes” are on the way out, they’ve certainly caused their fair share of furor on social media over substandard hardware acquired through sketchy purchases made online.

Craft Beers: Different Ballgame, Different Bad Guys

While it remains to be seen whether craft beers will undergo a bout or two with a wave of counterfeiters, this burgeoning market is already grappling with an entirely different issue altogether — albeit also within the realm of “illegitimate” craft brews.

According to the Brewer’s Association, which is an American trade group comprised of over 7,400 brewers and brewery-related entities, there is a fairly strict criterion as to what makes a craft brewer. The most important of which is the following:

  • It must be a small, independent and traditional brewer
  • It must produce no more than six million barrels of beer per annum
  • It must be no more than twenty-five percent owned or controlled by an industry member that is not itself defined as a craft brewer

The point of this delineation is to prevent large companies from touting specious DIY ethics in a bid to capture sales within the craft beer market, which they’ve already tried to do on a handful of occasions. In 2017, a class-action lawsuit was brought against Walmart stores — a company with a market value of $250 billion — for selling their “Trouble Brewing” line of purportedly craft beers. Similar legal dust-ups over the sale of faux craft brewers have included entities like Anheuser-Busch InBev’s “Ten Barrel Brewing,” MillerCoors’ “Revolver Brewing” and “Constellation Brands’ “Ballast Point Brewing.”

While the craft beer space has been beset with moneyed pretenders seeking to infiltrate the market, there‘s no legal record of outright counterfeiting as of this writing, nor is there likely to be in the future. Given the deep pockets and substantial staying power of the wrongdoers already on the scene, let’s hope it stays that way.