They’re cloudy, they’re wheaty and they can be super refreshing – Belgian wheat beers, or Witbiers, are the ultimate summer drink.
If you are a fan of Belgian-style wheat beers you probably already know about Shock Top and Blue Moon beers, maybe you’ve even enjoyed the odd bottle or two. Along with Hoegaarden White, Blue Moon and Shock Top are the best-selling Belgian-style Witbiers in America today.
Many even argue that Blue Moon is the top-selling craft beer in the United States, but can a beer that is owned and produced by one of the largest brewing groups in the world really be called a “craft” beer?
Without being too much of a beer snob, I would say “Hell, NO!” Calling Blue Moon a craft beer is like calling The Rolling Stones a small indie band!
Shock Top isn’t any more of a “craft” beer either and is actually produced by THE largest brewing group in the world today, Anheuser-Busch InBev.
That’s not to say Shock Top and Blue Moon are bad beers – they are two incredibly popular beers that bring the taste of a classic wheat beer to the beer-drinking masses.
Can either of these American beers satisfy the taste buds of your most diehard Belgian-style Witbier fanatics? Are they both the same beer or is one better than the other? Let’s take a look at these two refreshing beers, any similarities and differences, and consider which one you might be drinking this weekend.
Who Owns and Brews Blue Moon and Shock Top?
Let’s get the big question out of the way. If these two beers are not crafted by independent craft breweries, who exactly makes them or owns the brand?
Blue Moon is brewed and wholly owned by the Molson Coors Brewing Company and always has been (under the several different names the brewer has had – Coors, MillerCoors, Molson Coors, etc..).
Originally called “Bellyside White” in reference to the baseball season that was in full swing, Blue Moon was the brainchild of Keith Villa, a brewmaster who worked at the Sandlot Brewery owned by Miller Coors at the Coors Stadium in Denver, Colorado.
In 1995, the beer was renamed Blue Moon when someone said “A beer this good only comes around once in a Blue Moon”. With that, the Blue Moon Brewing Company was formed.
Blue Moon Brewing Company is an entity of the Tenth and Blake Beer Company, which is the craft and import division of Molson Coors. About 10 years ago though, in 2012, Blue Moon came under fire from the Brewers Association for not making it clear on the bottle that the brew is owned by MillerCoors.
Coors was basically accused of attempting to mislead the American public and masquerade as a craft brewer. A Californian man even filed a lawsuit against MillerCoors for the “craft beer” labeling in May 2015, but the lawsuit was dismissed by a judge later that year.
It wasn’t the first time Blue Moon has come under fire for its labeling. Shortly after release, and following the export of this popular “Belgian White” beer to Europe, the Confederation of Belgian Brewers sued the then-named Coors Brewing Company for the use of the term “Belgian White”. The CBB argued Corrs’ advertising was misleading and would confuse American beer drinkers into believing Blue Moon was actually brewed in Belgium.
Coors first responded by adding “Made in USA” and “Belgian-style” to the labels of bottles (in very small print though) but refused to change the advertising or packaging. Coors eventually settled out of court with the CBB and agreed to change the labeling to “Belgian-Style Wheat Ale” and grant the distribution of Blue Moon to the CBB for Europe.
By comparison, the story of who owns and brews Shock Top is quite simple, with very little if no controversy attached. Anheuser-Busch first brewed Shock Top in 2006 at their Fort Collins Brewery in Colorado. Interestingly enough, the beer was brewed to be a seasonal offering and marketed under the title of “Spring Heat Spiced Wheat”.
However, the original Shock Top beer won first place at the North American Beer Awards in the category of Belgian White and came third in the same category the following year. The success at the awards was enough of a hint for Anheuser-Busch that the beer recipe was good enough to brew all year around, and the Shock Top Brewing Company was formed as part of the Anheuser-Busch empire.
At no time has Shock Top gained the same reputation of trying to deceive American consumers into thinking that it is produced by a craft brewery – maybe because all the labeling quite clearly states that it’s produced in St Louis, the spiritual home of Budweiser and all Anheuser-Busch’s other array of beers.
Shock Top is only brewed in the US and not brewed overseas at all, unlike Blue Moon which is now brewed at several sites worldwide. To be honest, it would be rare to see a bottle of Shock Top outside the USA, as Blue Moon has already stolen that thunder.
So let’s get it right, Blue Moon and Shock Top are NOT craft beers, the Blue Moon Brewing Company is NOT an independent craft brewery, and neither Top Shock nor Blue Moon is of Belgian origin. Instead, they are American beers produced by two of the nation’s largest brewers, Molson Coors and Anheuser-Busch which are “Belgian-style” wheat beers. They could even be called “craft” style beers.
As for those pesky guys at the CBB, with Shock rarely being seen in Europe they don’t seem to have bothered too much with suing Anheuser-Busch over the use of Belgian White on its packaging. It probably helps that the HQ of Anheuser-Busch InBev is based in Leuven, Belgium – at least the brewer can claim to be part Belgian!
Blue Moon vs Shock Top – The Ingredients
Although both beers use a pretty familiar Belgian beer recipe and many of the same ingredients, both Blue Moon and Shock Top add their own twists to the classic Belgian wheat beer.
Blue Moon Ingredients
Blue Moon was inspired by brewmaster extraordinaire Keith Villa’s university education he spent in Brussels, Belgium. Working for Coors as a brewmaster, Keith was keen to recreate the light refreshing wheat beers he had tasted in Belgium.
Blue Moon is made with the four standard beer ingredients found in most beers: water, hops, yeast, and malted barley. The main ingredients which give this popular beer style its unique flavors are orange peel, coriander, and oats. Like many other wheat beers, at least 50% of the total grain bill of Blue Moon is made up of unmalted wheat.
However, to give Blue Moon a unique twist on the classic wheat beer taste, Keith decided to use Valencia oranges rather than the Dutch curaço oranges often favored by Belgian brewers. This gives Blue Moon a slightly sweeter taste than the traditional tart flavors of Witbiers in Belgium.
Another twist that Keith innovated was serving the Blue Moon beer with a slice of orange in the glass after seeing white ales in Europe served with lemon wedges to accentuate the flavors. It was felt a slice of orange would better bring out Blue Moon’s citrus notes.
Along with the classic Belgian White variety, the Blue Moon Brewing Co. also produces a diverse range of flavors for a variation in taste including Iced Coffee Blonde, a seasonal Harvest Pumpkin Wheat, a Peanut Butter Ale, and a Blackberry Tart ale, etc.
Shock Top Ingredients
Shock Top was first brewed as a seasonal beer, no doubt inspired by the success of Anheuser-Busch’s main competitor Coors’s foray into the world of Belgian witbiers. Shock Top is brewed with white wheat again, 2-row barley, and imported Hallertau hops blended with Willamette and Cascade varietals.
Originating from the Hallertau region of Bavaria, Hallertau hops are one of the four noble hops which are commonly found in German lagers and Belgian ales. They are typically used for flavor and aroma rather than bitterness – neither of these beers is particularly bitter.
Shock Top also uses orange peel with coriander like Blue Moon, but the guys at Anheuser-Busch also decided to throw in some lemon and lime peel too for more of a refreshing citrus taste.
Although the original Shock Top was brewed as a spiced wheat beer, the brand has since developed using diverse and unexpected flavors in other varieties of Shock Top such as Pumpkin, Pretzel, Raspberry, and more.
Are Blue Moon and Shock Top Lagers?
Despite their lighter golden colors, and refreshing carbonated fizz, both Blue Moon and Shock Top are not lagers, but instead fall into the category of a wheat beer, or an ale. Lagers are traditionally brewed at much cooler temperatures with a bottom-fermenting yeast, while a wheat beer uses a top-fermenting yeast at warmer temperatures similar to most other traditional ales.
That’s the really simplistic way of looking at it, but there are definitely more factors at play that differentiate these two quality beers from a lager, such as the ingredients, brewing method, brewing time, and storage.
Another key factor that makes Blue Moon and Shock Top so different from a lager is the appearance, or rather the clarity. Wheat beers are typically unfiltered beers that have a hazy appearance due to suspended yeast and wheat proteins throughout the beer that make the beer turn opaque and hazy when served chilled. A Belgian Witbier looks stunning when served in a glass and the cloudy white appearance almost glows.
Blue Moon, in keeping with the Belgian recipes, includes oats which further contribute to the beer’s cloudiness.
If you were to order a Bud or Coors Light on draft and it came out cloudy, you would insist the beer was off, but with wheat ale, it is to be expected.
Are Blue Moon and Shock Top Light Beer?
Although the trend in the domestic beer market tends to be for light beers (6 of the top 10 best-selling beers in the US are all Light beers, including Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, et al), Blue Moon and Shock Top certainly don’t fit into this category.
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Compared to light beers, which have a calorie count of around 100 calories and carbs of 4g or less (Michelob Ultra even boasts zero carbs), a Blue Moon or Shock Top Belgian White certainly isn’t the healthy option.
Being a Belgian style of ale, both Blue Moon and Shock Top have a slightly higher ABV than most domestic beers, especially light beers at 5.4% ABV and 5.2% ABV respectively. However, it’s still respectably low enough to be able to enjoy the beer on a Summer afternoon in the beer garden without falling over too much.
Both Blue Moon and Shock Top now offer a lighter version of their Belgian Whites for the more health-conscious beer lovers.
Shock Top Zest is a light wheat beer brewed with real orange and lemon peels, similar to the original Belgian White variety, for the natural taste of citrus fruits. However, it only has a calorific value of 90 calories and 3.1g of carbs. The alcohol content of the light Shock Top Zest has also been reduced to 4% ABV, keeping in line with most other light beers.
Blue Moon Light Sky Citrus Wheat is Blue Moon’s entry into the light beer market. Light Sky uses tangerine orange peel rather than the Valencia oranges of the traditional Blue Moon Belgian White but has a much lower calorie content of just 95 cals per 12 oz serving and lower carbs at 3.6g. Again, the ABV is lower and comparable to other light beers on the market at 4%.
Which Tastes Better, Blue Moon or Top Shock?
Let’s get to the important part – which beer tastes better. Although they are essentially the same beer, each has its own nuances that have won the hearts of beer enthusiasts.
At the most basic, Blue Moon has a light citrussy flavor with notes of orange and hints of coriander, while Shock Top has a much more pronounced citrus flavor with notes of orange, lemon, and lime.
Blue Moon tends to be a bit sweeter from the use of Valencia oranges, with the presence of coriander notes giving it citrus flavors. Shock Top gets those citrus flavors from the extra lemon and lime peels added into the mix with a taste of zest being the dominant flavor. The coriander aroma in Shock Top accentuates the citrus notes in the same way fresh coriander does in some Asian dishes.
Blue Moon gets most of its flavors and aromas from the orange peel and coriander which are added during the fermentation. The oats which make up part of the grain bill give it a thicker consistency with a creamy mouthfeel.
Shock Top tastes like a classic wheat beer with citrus flavors from the three fruits which are used in the brew. A subtle spicy flavor in Shock Top comes from the coriander, with the Hallertau hops blended with Willamette and Cascade giving it a slightly grassy and almost herbal flavor.
Both beers have a dough-like bread flavor to the malt from the 50% wheat used in the mash. Blue Moon seems like a thicker beer from the oats which are added, yet it still tastes creamy and light. Think of it as a lighter Guinness but in wheat form.
Although Belgian Witbier fanatics tend to prefer the more authentic flavor of the Shock Top, both beers are light and refreshing, making them ideal for summer drinking. Personally, I prefer the added depth of flavor from the Valencia oranges in the Blue Moon, but it’s pretty much a matter of personal preference.
One thing is for sure though, both these wheat beers have more flavor than any of the other beers produced by Molson Coors or Anheuser Busch. Both the major breweries have tried to appeal to the trend of craft beer in the more demanding drinkers and produced two exceptional craft-style beers.
Blue Moon vs Top Shock – Final Call
When it comes to overall quality, Blue Moon and Shock Top are both excellent choices for wheat beer lovers. They are both well-crafted and have unique flavor profiles that make them stand out from other wheat beers on the market.
However, Blue Moon is a more established brand, and it has a wider range of products, including different flavors and seasonal offerings. Shock Top is a newer brand, and it has a smaller product line, but it has been gaining popularity in recent years.
There are many positives that have emerged from the growing craft beer market and the rise of pseudo-craft beers from larger beer producers. Although they may not be the real deal when it comes to authenticity, supermarket shelves are now awash with an array of refreshing beer styles that make the best summer companions.
From the burst of a citrussy zing to the spicy or herb-inclusive finish, Belgium White beers are one of the most popular styles of summer beers. And in Blue Moon and Shock Top, two of our largest stateside brewers have succeeded in creating two of the best available anywhere in the world, and that includes Belgium too…just don’t tell that to the Confédération des Brasseries de Belgique (the Belgian brewers)!