If you haven’t noticed, craft beer is a big thing in Colorado, and the nation. You may be new to this movement, or you might be a longtime connoisseur of craft beer, or could care less about it all together. What you probably don’t know is that there is battle going on in America right now between the craft beer owner and ABInBev who is the largest owner/operator of big beer in the world (aka Budweiser).
Colorado felt this first hand in 2015 when local brewery Breckenridge Brewery sold to ABInBev. This sent a shockwave into the craft beer industry, locally and nationwide. This was not the first nor the last community craft beer to be gobbled up by the global power ABInBev. It was the first that was close to home for many Colorado craft beer drinkers and owners.
Here we are more than ayear later and ABInBev strikes again! On May 3, the North Carolina brewery Wicked Weed posted to their Facebook page that they would be selling to ABInBev. The social fallout was immediate. The comments that followed on the post were overwhelmingly negative to the decision. Many expressed the disappointment in selling out to the big bad beer monster.
Wicked Weed explained that while the growth of the brewery had been good, to get to the next level and keep (and grow) the staff, the move to go with ABInBev would help them maintain that growth and help the brand become a more nationally distributed beer. This is a topic that is debated many times in every brewery, blog, and podcast that involves beer. (By the way Brewski-Reviewski is a great beer podcast you want to check out!)
One local brewery had been collaborating with Wicked Weed and released a statement following the announcement. James and Sarah Howat of Black Project: Spontaneous & Wild Ales on South Broadway explained in the post saying “For us the choice is clear. At this stage, we don’t feel we are able to have a business relationship with Wicked Weed because that connection, ultimately, is one with ABInbev. Unfortunately, we don’t feel that having any connection with ABInBev is something we can do while still maintaining our mission, values, and core beliefs. We wish the best to everyone at Wicked Weed and we are happy for their success. We know they will continue to make great beers and we hope to remain personal friends in the future.”
That was just one of many in the craft beer scene to voice their disapproval of the move. While I write this and I have made many comments on air about moves like these, I believe this must be one of the toughest decisions a growing craft beer owner would make. To have a company come in and tell you they are offering you millions of dollars to buy your product and still let you be a part of the creative process makes for a difficult decision.
I do not believe this is something that many who comment, voicing their outrage and comments saying “How could you?” and “Never, I would never sell out!” have stopped to think about the magnitude that a choice like this would be. You have worked hard and built your brand but know there isn’t a whole lot you could do to keep the brewery moving forward unless you get the financial backing to do so.
I understand why Wicked Weed made this move and know they felt this was best for them. I do know that if you are in that position at some point in your career, in any field you are involved with, “Congrats you have done something right!” Now, while I understand why Wicked Weed made the choice to go with the big financial backing, I do not believe you can’t have your cake and eat it too. I find it funny that when these moves are made, the shock by the brewery that sold is surprised at the backlash they receive from the craft beer community. Especially when you sell to ABInBev.
Here is where I side with the craft beer community, I cannot and will not support ABInBev. They have done too many business dealings to try and corner the market and affect the distribution of the small beer maker. “See U.S. Justice Department in probing allegations that ABInBev seeking to curb competition in the beer market by buying distributors, making it harder for fast growing craft brewers to get their products on store shelves.” (Reuters Oct 12, 2015) I believe this will be the battle for the soul of the craft beer movement.
I wish the likes of Breckenridge and Wicked Weed the best moving forward, but since Breckenridge sold I have not, and will not, purchase their or Wicked Weed’s beer again. This is what is great about the business of beer. They have the right to sell the company any way they like, but I as a craft beer drinker will take my hard-earned dollar to other local breweries. See, I work twice a month at Launch Pad Brewing in Aurora serving beer and talking to this great craft beer community. I believe the craft beer community is a throwback to the all-American neighborhood pub where people go to meet, grab a beer and be part of their community. Not an all-night drunkfest that the bar has become today.
The problem of ABInbev is not going away anytime soon; at what point do we recognize the monopoly is already there? The great thing about beer in America is we have a choice on where to drink our beer, and for this beer drinker I will continue to drink at the little guy’s place and take my money there.