Wicked Weed founder expected criticism, but says sale means better beer

Wicked Weed co-founder Walt Dickinson says he expected fallout from fans and fellow brewers following the Asheville brewery’s announcement that it would join beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Known for unusual and experimental soured brews and hoppy India pale ales, Wicked Weed announced Wednesday that it would join The High End, Anheuser-Busch’s business unit focused on its craft and import brands. The sale was condemned by some brewers and fans who accused Wicked Weed of selling out, but Dickinson says it won’t change the business’ mission and should lead to better beer.

Dickinson said it was hurtful to see people posting pictures on the internet pouring out Wicked Weed beer and criticizing the decision to join Anheuser-Busch, but not everyone reacted negatively. While some Triangle bottle shops and bars say they will no longer carry the company’s products, others say they’ll continue stocking the brews as long as quality doesn’t suffer.

On the company’s Facebook post announcing the deal, more than 1,500 people voiced both positive and negative feedback to the move.

“It was a good run,” Dan Adams wrote on the Facebook page. “Unfortunately I cannot buy your products going forward, but thanks for the beers. I’ll miss your brewpub especially, you had a great thing going on there and excellent staff.”

Zane McGinnis struck a more hopeful tone, saying, “As long as Pernicious and Napoleon stay crisp and clean. I hope this only means better distribution.”

Dickinson and other employees all decided to stay on at Wicked Weed after the acquisition, but did expect fans to decry the loss of an independent brewery to joining a corporation like Anheuser-Busch. The large multinational company is seen as a villain by some craft brewers and has been accused of predatory business practices.

“I love this industry, it’s full of very passionate people,” Dickinson said. “If they didn’t get upset, it would mean they didn’t care.”

Several independent breweries, including Denver’s Black Project Spontaneous & Wild Ales and Austin’s Jester King Brewery, announced they would end partnerships with Wicked Weed. Black Project announced on its website that it will not lend its name to an unfinished collaboration beer now aging in Asheville, and a beer brewed with Wicked Weed in Denver will be scuttled.

“The beer we brewed with Wicked Weed here at Black Project will be blended with other existing aged beer we have on hand to make something totally different which we will not consider a Wicked Weed collaboration,” the brewery’s statement said.

Other breweries also vowed to boycott Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium Invitational, an annual event where brewers across the country share some of their soured and wild ales.

Wicked Weed was founded in 2012 by Walt and his brother Luke Dickinson and lifelong friends Ryan, Rick and Denise Guthy. There has been interest from larger companies about an acquisition in recent years, but Wicked Weed didn’t reach out to The High End until January, Dickinson said.

The company believes that joining The High End will be good for the brewery, which expects to produce about 40,000 barrels – about 13.2 million 12-ounce cans – in 2017, Dickinson said.

The brewery will remain mostly autonomous from The High End, but it will have better access to ingredients and won’t have to worry about logistical issues that involve packing and distributing beer across the country, Dickinson said.

“It’s the same people, the same brewers,” he said. “We’re in the same brewery working hard, and the beer isn’t going to change. It’s going to get better.”

The High End includes brands such as Stella Artois and Shock Top, along with craft partners Elysian, Golden Road and Devils Backbone. Dickinson said he spoke with some other brewers owned by The High End before the sale, and they had good things to say about the company.

Since the sale, he has talked to some independent brewers about Wicked Weed’s decision and says they still support him as a person and as a friend but dislike Anheuser-Busch and what it stands for.

“I believe my true friends will still be there because, again, this is just beer,” he said. “And life’s a lot more important than beer.”

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