“Purchase. Control. Obfuscate.”
That’s how Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch summed up the recent tactics by global brewing giants looking to take advantage of the excitement surrounding small and independent craft brewers and the true craft beers they produce. Koch addressed the recent large beer conglomerate acquisitions of Southern California brewers in “Stone Brewing just says no to ‘Big Beer’” in The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Here are some highlights:
Big Beer’s strategy is just the latest iteration of the age-old tactics that predatory industry members use to get ahead. “The industrial giants that worked for decades to marginalize our segment have found their tactics ineffective,” writes Koch.
With their core brands dwindling and the success of many of their own specialty brands unable to outshine the success of tried-and-true independent brewers, these companies have adopted an “if you can’t beat them, buy them” strategy.
“When a craft brewer sells out to Big Beer, not only are they handing over control of their company’s future (irrespective of the requisite “We’re Not Changing Anything” press release), their brand is transformed overnight from being a positive force for growing the craft segment into a tool fighting against the brewers who choose to remain solely dedicated to the craft category,” says Koch
It is unsettling to have once proudly independent brewers turned into Stepford Wives, blankly staring into the faces of their fans proclaiming that, “nothing will change.” All the while their handlers use the co-opted brands to squeeze true independent breweries out. How are 10 Barrel Pubs in San Diego and Denver authentic? As Blue Moon and 10 Barrel move in, true small breweries are forced out.
“Truth is, we live in a complex world. As consumers, it’s exhausting to know which brands are truly independent, authentic; did or didn’t sell out,” admits Koch. That’s where we, as consumers, come in as part of their plan. They want us to be lazy, to worry more about the price than a beer’s value.
As brewers like Stone Brewing continue to “take their lumps” in the name of great beer, we need to commit ourselves to making informed decisions about what we purchase. Big Beer wants us to be lazy, to disregard what true craft represents. Don’t be an apathetic drinker. Don’t let them obfuscate you. Craft beer is different.
Stone’s co-founder speaks for his brewery and his region, which has a legitimate claim to being one of America’s richest craft beer cultures, but the same strategy is being set up in every state and town in America. Are we so stuck on cheaper priced beer that we’re willing to switch out a River North for a 10 Barrel? Craft beer has never been about price, but rather value, variety and character. It’s those traits that can never be ripped off.
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