A few weeks ago, I rolled my eyes upon hearing that someone was suing Blue Moon. The dispute? Blue Moon is marketed as “craft beer” despite the fact that the brand is owned by one of the country’s largest beer manufacturers, MillerCoors. It speaks to the broader cries of “you can’t trust that word, there’s no government regulated definition” and both of my eye rolls when I hear those cries.

According to Merriam-Webster a craft beer is a “specialty beer produced in limited quantities.” TheBrewers Association gets a little more specific, defining a craft brewer as a brewer that produces no more than 6 million barrels of beer annually and no more than 25% of the brewery can be owned by a larger, non-craft brewery. This isn’t a legal definition, however in some ways, it’s in the Brewers Association’s best interest to make it a legal definition. A large part of what the Brewers Association does is lobbying, they even have a whole section on their website dedicated to government affairs. Currently, they are fighting to pass a federal law that would reduce excise taxes for craft brewers. You can’t do that without setting an explicit definition as to what a craft brewer is. It’s an example of how something that sounds nice and libertarian such as reducing excise taxes can take on a decidedly unlibertarian flavor by regulating a word like “craft.” It’s pretty cut and dry that Blue Moon doesn’t fit the Brewers Association’s definition, but that doesn’t mean it should be illegal for Blue Moon to market their beer as “craft beer.”

One of the problems with government control over certain marketing terms is that it inevitably drives prices up. Take organic food for example. the Organic Farming Research Foundation points out that “organically produced foods must meet stricter regulations” as one of several reasons why organic food costs more than non-organic food. If the government decides who can call their beer “craft beer,” would it then be accompanied by a similar certification process? Furthermore, would larger breweries stop using the term “craft” altogether, or would they simply use their own lobbying power to be make sure they can include their products under the “craft” umbrella?

But what about the poor consumers that might be duped into buying a lower quality beer? Personally, I would argue that this number would be very small. Most beer drinkers I know have maybe one or two favorites they buy over and over again because they like the taste, regardless of how big the brewery is. They’re most likely to try new beers in a bar or at a party, when maybe their favorite is unavailable or they’re with friends who can recommend a different beer. Many of us pick our drinks based on criteria that has nothing to do with what’s on the label. Furthermore, the term “craft” really only means something if the majority of people understand what it means. The Brewers Association may have an official definition, but how many people outside of dedicated beer connoisseurs see the term “craft beer” and understand it as anything other than a marketing term? My guess is that anyone who knows enough about beer to tell me a craft brewery makes less than 6 million barrels of beer annually also knows enough about beer to tell me Blue Moon is a subsidiary of MillerCoors.

While it’s certainly unethical to intentionally deceive a consumer just to sell more product, asking the government to lay out concrete standards for every vague marketing term lays the ground work for manipulation of those terms. It means whichever organization has the best lobbyists defines them. It means companies may have to pay more just to use those terms, and those costs are passed onto the consumer. So if it’s important to you that your beer come from small distilleries, just research companies yourself. It’s the label’s job to sell beer, it’s your job to buy beers that suit your taste.

This article was written by Students For Liberty blog team member Anne Butcher.