CINCINNATI (CN) – A class of beer drinkers claims in court that a line of craft brew produced and sold by Wal-Mart is “wholesale fiction” designed to deceive customers and inflate prices.
The beer – which comes in four varieties – is actually mass-produced and meets none of the criteria set forth for craft beer by the Brewers Association, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Friday in the Hamilton County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas.
Put on store shelves in 2016, Wal-Mart’s collaborative effort with Trouble Brewing includes the Cat’s Away IPA, After Party Pale Ale, Round Midnight Belgian White and Red Flag Amber varieties of beers.
According to the complaint, the beer is now sold in over 3,000 stores across 45 states.
“The trouble is, ‘Trouble Brewing’ doesn’t really exist,” the complaint states. “The applicant listed on filings with the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is ‘Winery Exchange Inc.’, which has since turned into WX Brands. WX Brands ‘develops exclusive brands of wine, beer and spirits for retailers around the world’ according to its website. But under the ‘brewery address’ section of the TTB filings, Genesee Brewing’s business office in Rochester, NY is listed instead. Genesee is owed [sic] by another company that brews Costa Rican lager among other industrial brands. Upon information and belief, Genesee produces well over the prescribe amount that would be considered ‘small.’”
According to the complaint, the Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as “small, independent and traditional.”
Additionally, to qualify, a craft brewer must “(a) produce less than 6 million barrels of beer annually; (b) be less than 25 percent owned or controlled by a non-craft brewer; and (c) make beer using only traditional or innovative brewing ingredients.”
The class claims Wal-Mart’s lineup “is a wholesale fiction created by the defendant … designed to deceive customers into purchasing the craft beer at a higher, inflated price.”
“Defendant stocks its craft beer next to other ‘craft beers’ for sale in its stores, rather than with other mass produced beers, such as Budweiser, Miller or Coors products,” the lawsuit states. “Again, by placing the craft beer on its shelves with other ‘craft beers’, defendant is further perpetuating the myth that it’s a craft beer.”
Lead plaintiff Matthew Adam seeks to represent a class of Ohio residents who have bought the beer at issue. The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for violations of the Ohio Consumer Sales Practices Act, fraud, and unjust enrichment, as well as an injunction preventing further false and misleading advertisements regarding the beer.
The class is represented by Brian Giles of Giles Lenox in Cincinnati, who said discovery in the case has not yet begun but he believes more than 6 million barrels of the beer has been produced.
A Wal-Mart spokesperson said in a statement, “We have not yet been served, but we take these claims seriously and will respond appropriately with the court.”