The Strange Reason For This Beer Vs. Hard Seltzer Legal Dispute

Guys, remember when hard seltzer was our biggest concern as a society? Well, Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) and Constellation Brands are still living like it's 2019, arguing over the merits of a certain fizzy alcoholic water, according to Food & Wine. That's because the former owns the Corona brand worldwide, while the latter owns the Corona beer brand in the U.S. Not a huge difference, really, and, if you don't count the somewhat horrendous PR that the word "corona" has been getting in recent years, there probably hasn't been much for the two beverage companies to worry about, historically speaking.

But now, both businesses want a part of that hard seltzer pie, and suddenly it's not the word "corona" that has everyone wringing their hands; it's the word "beer." Constellation argues that, as owner of the Corona beer brand in America, it has a license to make and sell Corona products of all kinds...which should include "sugar-based brewed beverages," aka hard seltzers (via Food & Wine). The folks at Anheuser-Busch InBev beg to differ.

Grupo Modelo, the arm of ABI that controls the Corona brand internationally, says that Constellation can sell beer all it wants, but that "a malt-free, hop-free, sugar-based product" hardly qualifies as beer, and as such, they should keep their paws off their White Claws. Or rather, their "Corona Hard Seltzers," which has neither the same ring to it, nor did it fit the rhyming scheme.

Why all the fuss over hard seltzer?

You can kind of picture the marketing meeting, can't you? When one bro was like "Bro, water is good but you know what's really good? Water with little bubbles." And another bro was like, "Bro!" And then a third bro, the savant of the group, was probably like, "Bro, you know what would be even better? Water with little bubbles in it, bro...That gets you drunk." Huge celebrations, the throwing of snapback caps, Mike's Hard Lemonades all around. Someone wheels in a whiteboard to work out the finer points of alcoholic sparkling water and hard seltzer, a billion-dollar industry, according to Forbes, was born.

It's no wonder Constellation and ABI are engaged in a dictionary dispute. As Vox points out, hard seltzer was 2019's unofficial drink of summer for good reasons: The spiked sparkling water is relatively inexpensive, easy to drink (due to its low ABV), and doesn't have the same judgy gender implications that previous generations' iterations, like Zima, did. (Due to its gender-neutral marketing strategy, and, hopefully, this generation's lack of judginess towards gender, generally. Whew.) Vox goes on to stipulate that the biggest thing hard seltzer has going for it is simple: "It is, in short, the most inoffensive way to consume alcohol."

The demand for alcoholic sparkling water is only going up

When Corona Hard Seltzer hit the market in 2020, around the same time the pandemic did, the demand could easily be measured in dollars — the drink finished the year as the fourth-ranked hard seltzer (via Forbes). And since White Claw and Truly are sitting pretty in spots one and two, respectively, and Goldman Sachs is predicting the hard seltzer market to reach $30 billion in sales by 2025, Constellation and ABI are Truly hoping to Claw their way into spots three and four.

As it stands, part of the reason Constellation is so upset by the challenge mounted by ABI is because ABI already holds the bronze medal in the hard seltzer Olympics — its BudLight Seltzer is currently third in the market. Cannibalizing Constellation would be "an attempt to squash a competitor," according to Business Insider, and one that currently only has a 6% market share at that (compared to the combined 75% held by White Claw and Truly). Which is just...kind of messed up, bro.