Small Brewers Have Strong Reaction to AB-InBev’s Acquisition of Wicked Weed Brewing
Between Wednesday’s announcement of AB-InBev’s acquisition of Wicked Weed Brewing, Beachwood Brewing taking a stand against TheBeerNecessities.com, a website owned by ABI, and all the phone calls and emails I’m getting from beer lovers, breweries and media, what a week it has been regarding moves being made by the largest U.S. beer producer who is also the world’s largest brewer.
Sure, this is usually inside baseball kind of stuff, but the reaction to the acquisition announcement is clear: independence matters because beer is not just about what’s in the glass — it’s also about who is behind the brands, their ethos, ethics and business behavior.
Right now, I am also reminded by Craft Business Daily that The High End, the division of ABI that Wicked Weed is set to join, chief Felipe Szpigel said in 2016 they were “about done acquiring” close to the time of their Karbach Brewing purchase. That “about done'” should have been a sign there was more to come. Please note this, beer-minded reader: ABI is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Belgium, with its headquarters in Leuven, Belgium, and is a global company.
(MORE: 2017’s Great American Beer Bars)
Reactions to AB-InBev’s Acquisition of Wicked Weed Brewing
News that AB-InBev was acquiring Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing has created a strong reaction from members of the small and independent brewing industry.
“This has been a difficult day for us. The news that our great friend Wicked Weed Brewing was acquired by AB In-Bev came as quite a shock,” Jester King Brewery Founder Jeffrey Stuffings writes on the brewery’s blog. The two breweries, who both focus on sour and funky beers, consider themselves friends, Stuffings says, brewing several collaborations together over the last few years. Here’s more of Stuffing’s note from Jester King’s blog:
“We’ve chosen this stance, not because of the quality of the beer, but because a portion of the money made off of selling it is used to oppose the interests of craft brewers.” Jeffrey Stuffings, Jester King Brewery
“We have some core principles that define who we are as a brewery, and those principles must not be compromised. One of our core principles is that we do not sell beer from AB In-Bev or its affiliates. We’ve chosen this stance, not because of the quality of the beer, but because a portion of the money made off of selling it is used to oppose the interests of craft brewers. In Texas, large brewers (and their distributors) routinely oppose law changes that would help small, independent brewers. We choose not to support these large brewers because of their political stances, and in some cases, their economic practices as well. Because of this core principle, it pains us to say that we won’t be carrying Wicked Weed anymore at Jester King.”
Jester King is also among several breweries who have pulled out of Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium Invitational. As of Thursday morning, that growing list of breweries included Black Project Brewing, Grimm Artisan Ales, Jackie O’s, OEC Brewing, Trillium Brewing Co. and Wooden Robot Brewery according to tenemu.com.
San Diego’s Modern Times Beer voiced its stance on the brewery’s Facebook page. Founder Jacob McKean is a vocal support of small and independent breweries. He penned the popular article “What ‘Selling Out’ is Actually About,” in 2016. After the Wicked Weed acquisition news came out Wednesday, Modern Times posted a link to McKean’s keynote speech at the 2016 California Craft Brewers Association Conference, in which he makes a promise:
“One way I pledge to keep this industry awesome is by never selling my brewery to Big Beer. There will likely come a time when I’m tired of carrying the weight of so much responsibility. But when that time comes, I’m not going to screw the people who made my success possible in the first place. That would be an unethical choice I could never be proud of,” McKean said in his address, which Modern Times has reprinted on its blog.
Hillsborough, North Carolina’s Mystery Brewing told its Twitter followers that they’d be updating their “AB InBev Graveyard” at the pub this weekend.
— Mystery Brewing Co. (@mysterybrewing) October 19, 2016
Denver’s Black Project Brewing used its blog to discuss its feelings toward the acquisition.
“For us, the choice is clear. At this stage, we don’t feel we are able to have a business relationship with Wicked Weed because that connection, ultimately, is one with ABInBev. Unfortunately, we don’t feel that having any connection with ABInBev is something we can do while still maintaining our mission, values, and core beliefs.
Sale Hits an Already Sore Spot for Beachwood BBQ & Brewery
News of AB-InBev’s acquisition of Wicked Weed Brewing hit a sore spot with Southern California brewery, Beachwood BBQ and Brewing, which was already frustrated about the publishing of an article by the Beer Necessities, a blog owned by AB-InBev’s The High End.
In a Facebook post, Beachwood says it did an interview with a freelance journalist who wanted to write about their brewery in a new blog. When the blog went live they discovered it was owned by The High End; while they admit they should have done their due diligence investigating the new blog, they feel duped and wanted to set the record straight.
“So don’t call us craft — call us independent.” Beachwood BBQ & Brewing’s Facebook Page
“We feel there’s no coincidence that The Beer Necessities chose to feature Beachwood as a successful brewpub just as AB-InBev launches full force into opening its own brewpubs in new markets. Some of you may write this off as conspiracy theory talk, but we are entering a whole new battle for the hearts and minds of the consumer. When The High End now has media arms that are actively supporting us in order to make the correlation to consumers that we’re all the same, they are most certainly trying to move us into a “post-craft” era. However, we reject this completely. In our opinion, AB-InBev has not embraced “craft” brands and quality beer because they share the values of independence and creativity that have fueled the craft beer revolution; they do so because it furthers their only real interest–the endless pursuit of profits.”
“So don’t call us craft — call us independent. Because AB-InBev’s long list of acquired “craft” brands (Golden Road, Goose Island, Breckenridge, 10 Barrel, Karbach, Elysian, Blue Point, Four Peaks, Devil’s Backbone, Wicked Weed) are not independent. We continue to believe that it matters who makes your beer!” the brewery continued.
Make No Mistake: It’s a Volatile Time for Beer
So here’s the deal. Why care? Because, to many, it does matter who owns the brewery behind the beer brands that one supports. Choice in beer is not limited to different beers from the brewing entity. Choice in beer is about different beers from different brewery businesses.
So as I work my way back to an American IPA from a growler I got down the street at my local brewery, I will leave you with this: I am here to confirm that small and independent U.S. breweries are threatened and vulnerable from the buyouts of their former brewery brethren. The more breweries a large global conglomerate owns, the more that conglomerate has the power to become a one-stop shop to distributors, lessening the chance for the truly independent beer to be carried by distributors and seen on the liquor store shelf and restaurant menus.
It is truly a fascinating but volatile time for beer in America.
Editor in Chief Jess Baker also contributed to this report