It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
For a while now a generation of independent brewers built craft beer partly by justifiably
vilifying Anheuser-Busch InBev. Drinkers and brewers alike started using words like
“movement,” “renaissance,” “rebellion,” and “revolution” to describe America’s craft brewing
culture. Quality and experimentation skyrocketed like never before. Small breweries appeared
in every state in America. With well over 7,000 breweries now open in the US t seems that
independent craft beer has won. Well, that might not be the case.
Think about it Bill. In the past decade, Big Beer has been systematically buying up the craft
breweries they couldn’t beat, and ABI has bought the most — 10 in all were snapped up in a
six-year shopping spree that touched virtually every major beer market in the country. .That
means, based on the industry’s benchmark retail sales metric, the world’s biggest beer
company is in reality the world’s biggest craft beer company as well. As I see it ABI is
hastening American drinkers into a “post-craft” future in which macro brewers make award-
winning craft brews and most drinkers won't care who owns their breweries.
Think back Bill, when we became craft beer drinkers. We were part of a culture war. It was
craft, the big underdog, against the machine. We drank it because it tasted good, and we
identified with it because it was cool. And still is by the way. A war was being fought every day
for shelf space and tap handles, and Anheuser-Busch, for once, didn’t have the weapons to
win. Now they just might.
ABI opened door after door for its acquired breweries, leapfrogging them ahead of their former
revolutionary comrades and setting in motion a multistage plan to turn the tide in the craft beer
revolution. Instead of creating authentic craft brands which they have the ability to do,they just
flexed their power as a giant corporation. With their acquisitions from coast to coast, ABI could
compete directly with craft brewers on all the things that had brought drinkers to those
breweries in the first place.
From homey back stories, to community and grassroots ties, right down to the beers them-
selves, many drinkers have no idea who really owns the breweries they patronize. The lack of
transparency is part of the macros plan to eventually crush craft.
Is it possible craft has won the battles but is actually losing the war?
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
Oh no, not another conspiracy theory. Aren't you the one who told me the J.K. Rowling” we
know is an actress, not a writer; that Bob Dylan stole “Blowin’ in the Wind” from a random New
Jersey high-school student..and that Elvis faked his death? Wait - don't throw anything at me.
Just kidding especially since in this case I agree with you.
I'm worried that while InBev's moves have created anguish and anger within the craft industry,
average drinkers might not even care. I see craft's still growing appeal with mainstream
American drinkers as possibly being a double-edged sword. It brought legitimacy, stature, and
financial success for many craft brewers but it also brought a wave of drinkers more interested
in good beer than where or who it came from. In a strange way, as craft beer became more
popular, but less special — it became more vulnerable.
From what I've seen after every acquisition, there was a settling out period, where a tiny brewing
company adjusted to life under the banner of the beer world’s biggest behemoth. After the staff
shakeouts, once the backlash had died down and the companies were sufficiently integrated,
these InBev-backed craft breweries were in formidable positions. The could super charge
production of its craft brands to a degree that was previously unimaginable. For example,
nearly 95 % of all independent breweries produce less than 10,000 barrels annually, across all
their beers, That number of barrels is around the standard for a single beer from an InBev
owned craft brewery.
In beer, higher volumes mean better margins, which mean lower prices. So In the end they'll be
selling 15 cans for the price a independent brewery is selling 12. That's a losing position in
most cases. Even more, the macro brewery has the influence to box out rivals from retail
shelves, tap towers, even entire stadium concessions. We've both seen that, Gina.
These "crafty" beers have to convince the American drinking public that there’s no difference
between the two. This is where InBev perhaps been most shrewd. They took control of
RateBeer. and bought Northern Brewer. With those investments, they acquired two properties
dear to craft beer people and tapped into a trove of precious consumer data indicating the stuff
the craft beer community cares about the most. Information is the key to future victory.
Also be wary of the hearts and minds approach as they promote a "bring the industry together"
type thinking. May I quote you Gina on that topic, "baloney".
Lastly let me tell all our readers to look for the Brewers Association Independent Seal on the
beer they buy. I do and so does Gina. I'm also proud that BeerNexus puts it on their index
page. Don't worry Gina, we have not lost the war, not by a long shot.
Here's looking at you Gina