Throughout the last month, AB InBev’s team of craft brewery reps for High End (their craft beer division) have been traveling around drumming up support in the Denver craft beer community. By reps, I mean the one-time-owners of three craft breweries, 10 Barrel, Golden Road and Breckenridge Brewing. These breweries were bought by AB InBev in its ongoing quest for world beer domination.
They were recently interviewed for an article in Westward and one thing is clear, they are pissed off about how they are being perceived and aren’t afraid to talk about it.
Westward’s article says, “Usry, Wales and Gill are tired of hearing about that shit. And they’re angry — angry at liquor stores, guilds, distributors, consumers, the media, other breweries and anyone else who thinks that they sold out, that they make bad beer or that they still don’t belong in the craft community.”
The benefits of selling to AB InBev are clear. The three craft breweries say that after joining the macro-brewery they have access to more resources, more equipment, and more distribution channels. Furthermore, a lot of their day-to-day headaches have been relieved. But from this article, they came off as whiny more than defiant. They are talking about the huge benefits of joining up with a beer giant and in the same breath complaining that they aren’t welcome in the craft beer community.
Three things stuck out when reading this article…
1. They feel that craft breweries are using them as “a punching bag to make themselves seem less petty.”
This was a quote that referenced how breweries are usually kicked out of craft brewers guilds once they are no longer technically a craft brewery. This is due to pesky rules in guilds about not being owned (more than 25%) by a non-craft brewer. In Breckenridge’s situation, they helped create the Colorado Brewers Guild and still hold a seat on the board. This pissed off 14 Colorado craft breweries enough that earlier this summer they broke off from the Colorado Brewers Guild and formed their own group called, Craft Beer Colorado.
But why should a macro beer have a voice in a guild designed to help the little guys get their beers out among the masses of beers? One of the reasons why guilds are set up is so that craft breweries have a legislative voice. When you are a multi-billion dollar company like AB InBev, you already have a voice, whether you pay top dollar for those voices in terms of lobbyists or it’s the fact that you will soon control 1/3 of the world’s beer once the SAB Miller/AB InBev merger goes through.
2. “Some breweries have used the AB InBev purchases — and the possibility that AB distributors will force out other craft brewers — as a way to get ‘free publicity’ and to work the consensus among craft-beer drinkers “in favor of themselves,”
This one hit close to home because we have written a lot of blogs on this topic. This is not about free publicity for us. We truly want craft beer drinkers to understand what is happening in the industry and allow them to make informed choices as to which breweries they support. None of it is personal against the brewers or employees in these bought-out breweries. The beer is still delicious and the workers are still working hard to produce a great product.
But the fact remains, their parent company is actively trying to make it harder for consumers to have a variety of choice when they go to grab a beer at their favorite bar. Every single craft brewery that AB InBev buys becomes their ammunition in this fight. Now, when their distributors go to bars and offer up their beers they can say they have 8 legit craft breweries in their stable, and those kegs will cost less to buy than other craft beers (the boon to being a billion dollar company is that you can charge less for your product).
3. “Basically, what happened is that they took their ball and went home. Whatever happened to competition?”
This quote really shows how out of touch these three are. Whatever happened to competition? Using their own analogy, that’s akin to wondering why a freshman basketball player would feel that it’s not fair competition to go up against LeBron James in a game. When it’s not a fair playing field, then yes, they will take their ball home (or move to a different court, as Craft Beer Colorado did). Once a brewery sells to AB InBev they need to realize that their parent company has different goals than many other craft breweries. It’s true that we all want to get our product out on the market for consumers and sell more beer. But AB InBev’s goals involve actively trying to squash the competition though both legal and illegal means (which we have talked about in previous blogs…). Who wants to play with cheaters?
In the end, no one is going to stop AB InBev or MillerCoors’ march into craft beer territory. We can only keep making great beer and also make sure people know about what’s going on behind the scenes and why knowing who owns your favorite beer matters.