Still ‘Team Wicked Weed’ Even After the Buyout

Wicked Weed Buyout
Photo By: Chelsie Markel

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.

Wicked Weed Brewing Co.
Photo By: Chelsie Markel

Chelsie:

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?

(Follow Chelsie: Twitter:@dzyngrl | Untappd: @dzyngrl | Instagram: @dzyngrl14)


Photo By: Amanda Mc-Grory-Dixon

Amanda M.:

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.

(Follow Amanda M.: Twitter: @AmandaMcGrory | Untappd: @AmandaDixon | Instagram: @amcgrorydixon)

5 Comments on Still ‘Team Wicked Weed’ Even After the Buyout

  1. Wicked Weed started with the support of a very wealthy investor. Their rise was atypical and they didn’t have to jump the hurdles that other craft breweries did.

    I visited wicked weed when they were in their first year. I was a big fan. I’m not giving them any of my money. But, I don’t care if others disagree. Cheers!

    • We encourage honest and open discussions here on StoutsandStilettos.com. Thank you, Jay, for reading and responding with your perspective. Cheers, man!

  2. Hi Ladies, I always respect your opinions, however, this time I must disagree. The Guthy’s (part owners of Wicked Weed) are worth over 500 million from their Proactiv Cosmetics line. Their marketing firm Guthy-Renker is the majority owner of Proactiv. So it doesn’t make sense to me that they would sell based on needing money to expand or to be set up for the rest of their life. They have been funding Wicked Weed the entire time. Seems to me like big business that could care less about the effects that it can have on the smaller breweries especially since AB has been pushing for legislation that directly opposes small brewers simply for their own interest. That is the reason that most people, including myself, are boycotting AB Beers. I am a small business just like most breweries. I am disgusted by the fact that a larger company that is NOT EVEN AN AMERICAN OWNED would oppose and fight against laws that would help small businesses in OUR country. Quite frankly, it’s bullshit. This is OUR HOUSE and we must protect it.

    • Hey Bart. Love you man! Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. Let’s keep talking through this. Because I’m always looking to understand others point of view and dig for more facts to base my perspective and decisions on. But first. To be clear. I’m responding based on my rationale on the topic as opposed to Amanda M.’s take on what’s happening. 🙂

      According to 2 of the founders of Wicked Weed, they sold to AB Inbev for “great distribution opportunities, more resources, and connections to other breweries, including Goose Island, Blue Point, and Breckenridge Brewery. More opportunities for Wicked Weed means bringing craft beer to more people — which ultimately, they argue, elevates the entire beer industry.” (source: http://www.businessinsider.com/wicked-weed-founders-take-on-sell-out-criticism-2017-5) So they did indeed sell their business because they didn’t have the $ or internal structure (aka “more resources”) to make those initiatives a reality. For greater distribution, it means more production facilities located in various strategic places in the U.S. to fill that demand. Those additional locations up the quantity of beer produced and it cuts down on transportation costs dramatically. It also allows quicker to shelves delivery. Such is business. Business is cut throat. Business is demanding. And, it requires constant research and strategy to get ahead of the competition. I guess I shrug at this “business is business” mentality from all the years working in the ad agency world. It’s incredibly cut throat. The competitive nature pushes our creative minds to think outside of the box to secure the work. For me, none of this news in the craft beer world as of late is shocking or weird. It’s business as usual.

      Do I want AB Inbev to dominate the world and create a monopoly of sorts (as if they aren’t becoming dangerously close already)? No way. But that’s up to the courts to decide. I don’t think boycotting a few breweries makes an impact on this outcome. This is where I would get up on my soap box and talk about being more active in elections, yada yada yada.

      But real quick. I want to address 1 more aspect that I didn’t touch on but thought about… and perhaps might go back to add to my post. There’s the issue of shelf space at retail which Christine Zhang brought to light in her interview with Joe Bisacca of Elysian (source: http://www.stoutsandstilettos.com/real-talk-elysian-co-founder-joe-bisacca-two-years-sale-big-beer/). Limited shelf space happens in every industry is real and isn’t exclusive to beer. There’s only so much space that can be filled. It’s unrealistic for the 5,300 breweries (and growing) to think they can all squeeze on to that shelf if the laws were “more fair” to small businesses. OK. Let’s play pretend for a moment. Let’s change the laws so it is more fair. What happens then? Then the stores choose who they stock on their shelves. We get all angered about how stores are controlling their shelves and not letting some folks “in”. The stores are going to stock beer that they are convinced will sell well and quickly, make the most profit and get folks into their stores (among a million other reasons). It’s just not a realistic expectation breweries should have. That’s why I applaud the breweries that self-distribute and supply their local community and surrounding towns with delicious, creative, quality, fresh beer. They interact with the community. Give back to the community. Are a part of the community. They’re not looking to take over the world or be this faceless product on a shelf.

      • Hi Chelsie!! 🙂
        Love this!
        I simply feel that they could have done the same thing without selling out to AB. Look at Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Yuengling, Deschutes, Bell’s, Stone, and on and on. Bottom line for me is that AB is a foreign company that uses big bucks to fight laws that will help smaller breweries in OUR country and OUR home turf. This may be crossing the line into politics because the politicians that feed into this sort of thing can eat it too. I have no problem with foreign businesses operating in our country but I do have a problem if they are trying to squash the businesses here for their own interest.

        With that being said, I think that once Wicked Weed becomes available everywhere because of the sale to AB, the product loses it’s integrity. Look at Goose Island IPA. Who orders that anymore? The Pernicious IPA is my favorite beer. Call me crazy but I actually enjoy the fact that I have to travel to get it. And I love being pleasantly surprised when it shows up in Central PA from time to time. It makes that much more rewarding to me. Kind of like my happy place when I visit Asheville, Louisville, Destin, Stowe, etc. If I start seeing it next to Goose Island and Budweiser at a gas station, it loses it’s luster. Unless of course, that gas station is in Asheville. 🙂

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