If you’re cruising the beer aisle of your local Walmart, you can pick up a Pack of Trouble, a brightly colored cardboard box containing a dozen of its own Trouble Brewing-label beers. But Wal-Mart’s real pack of trouble arrived last Friday, in the form of a class action lawsuit filed by an Ohio man over the gargantuan retailer’s claims that Trouble Brewing is a craft beer.
The lawsuit, which was filed by goddamn American hero Matthew Adam, says that Walmart used “fraudulent, deceptive and unfair” practices to sell the four beers produced under the Trouble Brewing name (Cat’s Away IPA, After Party Pale Ale, Round Midnight Belgian White and Red Flag Amber.” It says that nothing about the beer qualifies as a craft beer as defined by the Brewers Association—or even as defined by Merriam-Webster, the Cambridge Dictionary, or the Oxford English Dictionary. (We’re not kidding: these attorneys went full Encyclopedia Brown with their definitions).
Adam’s lawsuit is heavy on details pulled from a story published in January by The Washington Post. In the news outlet’s own investigation into Trouble, it said that the beer was “a collaboration” between the retail Goliath and Rochester, New York-based Trouble Brewing. But the Post discovered that not only does Walmart seem to hide the fact those four beers are actually a store brand, but Trouble Brewing doesn’t even exist.
“The applicant listed on filings for the four beers with the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is ‘Winery Exchange, Inc.,’ now known as WX Brands,” reporter Fritz Hahn wrote. And the address on those forms belonged to Genesee Brewing—a massive beer producer that is actually owned by a Costa Rican company, Florida Ice and Farm.
The Brewers Association, a not-for-profit brewers trade organization, has three criteria that must be met by brewers who define themselves as American craft brewers: annual production must be 6 million barrels of beer or less, less than 25 percent of the craft brewery can be owned or controlled by any alcohol industry member that isn’t also a craft brewer, and a majority of its beers must have “flavors derived from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.”
In the lawsuit, Adam said that he was prompted to take legal action because, well, he’s out $14. He bought two Trouble Brewing Variety Packs because he believed that he was getting some cheap craft beer, and that he probably wouldn’t have bought it if he thought it was just alcoholic Walmart water. (We’re paraphrasing, but that’s the idea). If his challenge succeeds, he and all other duped members of this class would be “entitled to [Walmart’s] wrongful gains, including interest, resulting from its unlawful, unjust and inequitable conduct” from mislabeling its beer.
“We hold our suppliers to high standards and are committed to providing our customers the quality products they expect,” Ragan Dickens, the Director of National Media Relations for Walmart told MUNCHIES. “While we have not yet been served with the complaint, we take this matter seriously and intend to defend ourselves against the allegations.”