There’s been lots of talk on and off the interwebs about the recent buyout of Wicked Weed Brewing Co. by AB Inbev. What’s AB Inbev? It’s the corporate entity that was formed by the merger of Anheuser-Busch (U.S.), Interbrew (Belgium) and Ambev (Brazil) and is one of the largest players in macro beer. They’ve been buying a few independent craft beer companies over the past few years under their High End portfolio. Now Wicked Weed joins Goose Island, Elysian, Breckenridge, 10 Barrel, Blue Point, Devil’s Backbone and Four Peaks among others in the AB Inbev craft beer line up.
While Tierney and Colleen have their reasons why they are now boycotting Wicked Weed in their latest joint post: The Struggle with the Wicked Week Buyout. Amanda M. and I have differing views.
If I’m being totally honest, I have to admit that every time I hear about a craft brewery being bought out, I cringe. I think I react that way from all the hype, real or speculated, about big beer trying to crush little beer. And, no I’m not talking ABVs when I say “big” and “little.” I’m talking about the collective fear that macro beer giants will squash the little guys in the brewing biz. About how the notion that a buyout means the beer will inevitably suck from this day forward. And that you are a sellout if you continue to patronize said brewery.
Mostly, I think it’s my tendency to root for the underdogs – in any industry. To see a person or company overcome all of the odds and obstacles to be successful is energizing. Plus, I do see the benefit of supporting local businesses which in turn help build a stronger community from tax revenue generated, job creation and the money pumped into the local economy.
From what I understand, the owners of Wicked Weed Brewing Co. sold the brewery to AB-Inbev to gain necessary dollars for expanding their facilities without going into gobs of debt for the expansion. It also will increase distribution reach so more folks like me can finally get their hands on Wicked Weed beers on the regular.
The fact is, many brewery owners start out their business taking out substantial loans to see their dreams become a reality. Or they have to take on many investors – decreasing their ownership percentage right from the start. I’ve gone through the brewery start up process with my husband when we had the dream to open up our own little place. And I know first hand how substantial the investment needs to be to do it right. Things add up fast.
As quickly as breweries have been growing every year, it becomes a never ending cycle of buying bigger equipment and sometimes even having to acquire more space to keep up with demand. It’s not like the good old days when breweries could take 15 – 20 years to become brewing giants. Present day, the demand for some beers is such that breweries have to go full throttle from 0 to 60 in 2 – 3 years in comparison. The equity dollars just aren’t there to do the necessary upgrades to keep up.
With that all said, I really love good beer. High quality, top notch, smile-with-every-delicious-sip good. And, quite frankly I don’t care if it comes from macro or micro/craft breweries. Let’s be clear. I rarely buy beer from macro companies. Generally what they offer is a flavorless beverage that gives me a headache in the morning. It comes down to a very simple, no bullshit philosophy. If the beer is great tasting and high quality, then I’m drinking it. On the flip side, if the beer produced from ANY brewery is sub par or down right blah, I’m not drinking it. The issue of quality is something to be discussed across the board (micro and macro levels). Local doesn’t always equate to good, quality beer. I see quality issues every day from craft breweries of all sizes.
Don’t get me wrong. I spend a lot of money supporting local breweries. Mostly because I prefer beer that is fresh, on draft and is innovative (creative or complex in recipe/flavor). If that means the beer is found just a few minutes from where I live or if I have to drive 9 hours to get it then that’s what I do. I go where the good beer lives.
For the brewery acquisitions I’ve followed so far (Elysian, Goose Island, etc), the beer quality hasn’t seemed to change much. I was more concerned with the news last November that Richard Kilcullen – the brewer who headed the Wicked Weed wild ales program – was taking the role of brewmaster at the soon-to-be-completed BrewDog Overworks located in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. That alone may be a reason for a future downturn in beer quality, inconsistency of flavor or lack of innovation in product if any issues arise. It all will depend on the skill of the individual who fills Richard’s shoes at Wicked Weed.
Time will tell. As for now, I’m still Team Wicked Weed.
p/s – Can we drop the outdated, 1 size fits all, “craft” descriptor already? If we want to communicate who owns a brewery, (because that really is the issue, right?) shouldn’t we be using the terms “monopoly” for the macro companies and use “independent” for breweries who are self-owned?
Before I begin, I want to clarify that I don’t squeal with joy when I hear about another Anheuser-Busch InBev buyout. I understand how these buyouts are terrible for the industry. However, with so many craft beer enthusiasts calling for a Wicked Weed boycott, I try to look at the situation as if I owned a brewery AB InBev wanted to purchase, and I can confidently say I would sell in a heartbeat. Knowing I would sell, it doesn’t seem right to condemn a brewery for that same action.
If I were to sell, I’d never have to worry about money for the rest of my life. I could exhaustively travel the world, build my dream home and never miss an experience because it doesn’t fit into the budget. My beer hauls would be legendary. I get giddy thinking about the ridiculous bottle shares and food pairings I could host with that much money to my name. Unfortunately, I don’t do or own anything that’s worth millions, so Powerball is my best hope, which doesn’t bode well for my chance to live the millionaire lifestyle. Wicked Weed was given an amazing opportunity, and I can’t blame the brewery for taking it.
Over the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of people claim they wouldn’t sell. They’d walk away from this life-changing amount of money. But I don’t believe most of them. I’m sure there’s a handful of people who wouldn’t sell, but money is a powerful motivator.
Besides the money factor, I still love my Bourbon County Brand Stout and the Sour Sisters series from Goose Island. Every fall, I stock up on Elysian Brewing’s delicious assortment of pumpkin beers. Recently, 10 Barrel Brewing opened a brewpub in Denver, and while I haven’t visited yet, it’s on my to-do list for the spring.
To be fair, some craft beer enthusiasts have boycotted those AB InBev breweries, and that is at least consistent with their calling for a Wicked Weed boycott — even if I still think most of them would sell out. And that’s absolutely not a judgment. Remember, I’m right there with them. But I’ve seen a lot of people who enjoy beers from those aforementioned breweries swear off Wicked Weed. Why the double standard for Wicked Weed? That’s what gets me.
Does this mean I won’t support my local, independent breweries? Not at all. Most beer I drink comes from local, independent breweries. That won’t change, but I won’t stop drinking what I like or hold breweries to a different standard.