It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - there they go again.... it's those folks at Anheuser-Busch InBev. No, not the usual
baloney, now they are in the midst of a PR push, the goal of which is to soften resistance to
their craft brewery acquisition strategy. And they're fooling a lot of folks who should know
better (not you of course Bill). The problem I see is that those who like us that champion the
cause of craft beer have dropped the ball in responding to ABInbev claims. So I'm going to do
their job and set the record straight.
One of InBev's claims is that moving production of core brands from acquired breweries to
ABI's plants improves their quality; that their plants have been retrofitted specifically to handle
craft beer in ways that the craft breweries themselves simply couldn't afford back when they
were independent operations. InBev's says they add things like a Super Sack system..hop
backs, conical tanks, more cellaring space,and items like mash filters, centrifuges, and tasting
rooms. Pay attention now Bill - I say none of the items are unaffordable to independent craft
brewers and none of them are related to quality.
InBev has repeated and repeated the argument that their taking over craft breweries is
beneficial because those breweries couldn't have expanded without macro-beer financing and
that the expansion then allows more quality craft beer to reach the public. Come on now; I
can think of literally dozens of independent craft breweries that have expanded far more
aggressively than any of their acquisitions without selling out.
The macro-brewers claim they are the good guys because they have made hops available to
the craft breweries they've purchased which would otherwise be unavailable to them. It sounds
good but (you knew there would be a but) virtually all hops are available to any craft brewer
willing to plan ahead and contract accordingly.
Bill, I think I've heard even you say that macro-beer's money gives acquired breweries access
to capital they could not have gotten otherwise, and this money is spent on experimentation.
As I see it, if a brewery does not invest in experimentation or barrel-aging or a sour program, it
is because they not interested in those things. And there are literally thousands of breweries
with limited resources who do those things and more. The vast majority of independent craft
breweries successfully rely on bank financing for their expansions. Interest rates are at nearly
historic lows, and banks are more eager than ever to work with breweries. They don't need to
Mark my words, every brewery acquired will eventually see quality decline due to the new
owners desire for more profit. Even worse perhaps is that those brands will take away shelf
space form deserving breweries. It's a nightmare waiting to happen.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina - All I can say is there you go again. Oh, just kidding, but you'll have to admit this is
one issue that really gets you going. So, first off, relax- good craft beer is here to stay. Oh, and
even more importantly, I actually agree with most of your points. And let me say this upfront - the
diversity and innovation we see in craft beer was only possible due to independent breweries.
You did leave out one claim the macros make that I've read countless times - breweries can’t
expand their geographic distribution without the “muscle” of macro brewers. A lot of beer now
enjoyed in many markets would never have been able to obtain shelf space outside their local
area had it not been partly acquired by a macro-brewer. Let me put the lie to that one -
Independent craft breweries expand their geographic distribution literally every day. There has
never been a time when distributors were more eager to take on new brands. In the past craft
breweries often had to beg and plead distributors to take them on, now, distributors are
incredibly eager for new brands and recruit against each other to sign a brewery up.
Having said all of that I still find it difficult to totally blame the independent small brewer for selling
out. To be frank, the single purpose of operating a business, brewery or otherwise, is to
generate a profit for the owner. Is it not logical then to sell out when a huge sum of profit can be
made for that owner? It’s not all about money, but for many it is, so it's difficult to condemn them.
Maybe it would be better if we instead applauded and supported those who said no to a buyout.
Look Gina, owners are more than entitled to sell out. What I dislike is when they and their buyer
tell me It has to do with being more altruistic about the product or the brand in quality or
distribution. I don't want to hear them pretend that the sellout is just an method to try to improve
the “brand”. I probably shouldn't admit this but the minute these craft breweries are bought up, I
tend to put that brand on my least likely to buy list. Let me put it another way, once the macros
take over the beer is never the same again so why drink it. They are just better marketed,
available in more places, and thus more mass produced giving way to efficiency and better
profitability. It could be a coincidence but after the buy out, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
became just a shadow of what it was, though admittedly a decent shadow (excluding the recalls.
When did you ever hear of a recall when Goose was an independent?)
When a company only cares about the bottom line there is no way ingredients, time and process
will not be compromised.
Now before we get a slew of anti e-mails for our stance let me say for both of us that this column
has nothing to do with whether someone should sell their business. We only want to point out
that a number of exaggerations and corporate propaganda. are being promoted to the public
and craft beer fans as a means to justify the sale.
Here's looking at you Gina