Recently, 10 Barrel Brewing put forth a proposal to Civic San Diego, outlining their plan to open a brewpub in downtown’s East Village. Within an hour of the filing, there were three oppositions filed by local craft beer enthusiasts. San Diego’s craft beer community is well known for its camaraderie and brewers’ willingness to share their knowledge and ideas with one another, so this immediate negative reaction seems unusual…but 10 Barrel Brewing is not your regular craft brewery. In 2014, it made headlines, and drew criticism, when they sold to AB InBev. Although 10 Barrel is still considered craft by some standards, the fact that it’s owned by a giant beverage company disqualifies it by other standards, like the Brewers Association‘s, because more than 25% ownership is owned by someone other than a craft brewer.
The opposition’s point of view is that San Diego has a strong community of independent, local brewers and doesn’t need big beer masquerading as local, craft beer, muddying the waters for consumers. Ironically, with the brewpub format, 10 Barrel’s beer would technically be brewed locally, a coveted title in a city with such a high standard for beer. What’s the real issue here, though? People open breweries in San Diego all the time and most are welcomed and encouraged. Furthermore, this particular building that 10 Barrel wants to remodel is a dilapidated eyesore, in bad need of renovation.
People should be less worried about AB InBev buying up breweries and more worried about the fact that they have been buying up distribution companies right and left and now own 17. Then, in October, 2015, the DOJ launched a probe into AB InBev, investigating claims that they have engaged in actions that seek to curb its competition (i.e. craft beer) at the distribution level. There have been reports that AB InBev pushes their acquired distributers to only carry their products, impeding the sales of craft beer also sold by that distributer. Since many states require that alcohol is sold through a distributer, this could be a scary prospect for independent brewers across the nation. If AB InBev were to keep buying up distributers and craft breweries, and then possibly merge with SAB Miller, this beer behemoth could actually wipe out truly craft beer from taps near you. Luckily, California is one of the few states that allows for beer to be sold directly to bars and restaurants by breweries, but other states could be left out in the cold.
This is the crux of the 10 Barrel issue for many San Diego craft brewers. It’s not that we don’t want another brewpub in San Diego, it’s that we don’t want a brewpub owned by a company which reportedly plays dirty and actively engages in actions that hurt the craft beer market. AB InBev wants it all. While Budweiser was slamming craft beer and the people who drink it in their much-maligned 2015 Super Bowl commercial, they were also buying up craft breweries and now have 14 in their stable. That’s all well and good, but added to their recent push to buy up distributers, it’s downright scary that they could soon have such a major hold on distribution, along with a bevy of craft beer breweries to fill their taps. We will have to see what comes of the DOJ probe, but independent brewers are wary of AB InBev and their true motives. Nothing against 10 Barrel Brewing either. They took a big payday and apparently get unending money from In-Bev for expansions and upgrades, so they will be just fine no matter what happens in the East Village.