There’s been a lot of activity recently when it comes to the subject of big beer companies buying craft beer companies. When I started writing this post it was just after Heineken purchased a 50% share of Lagunitas, America’s fifth largest craft brewer by volume. I’m not sure if 24 hours passed by before the news broke that MillerCoors bought an undisclosed majority share of Californian Saint Archer Brewing Co.
As expected, the opinions were divided with social media comments firing back and forth like a frantic table tennis tournament. It’s the same every time. Some cry “sell out” and declare they’ll never drink beer from that craft brewery again, others insist it just means bigger distribution and the beers will remain the same.
Meanwhile, as this post still sat in my drafts folder, things got a lot closer to home with Mountain Goat announcing they had agreed to a purchase by Asahi – 100% ownership stake.
Once again I braced myself to read outraged cries though it seemed to be a lot less than I was expected but not by much.
There has been some excellent local commentary from some of my favourite beer writers which I encourage you to read –
Crafty Pint: Same Same but Different
Ale of a Time: A naive snob’s perspective: Big business and selling out
Ale of a Time: A naive snob’s perspective part II: I worry
Beer is Your Friend: The Mountain Goat sale – put the pitchforks down people
Australian Brews News: Mountain Goat – This Day was Always Coming
Of course, I have been pondering the subject myself and so, in the grand tradition of better late than never, here’s a few words from my brain on the topic –
macro before proven craft …
It seems that with one click of the article link, the craft brewery is condemned to the “yellow fizzy lager” pile. One day they are lovable craft, you’re sharing their beer with your friends and talking about how great they are and then WHAM suddenly they are heartless beer demons who’d sooner sell their grandmother than further the craft beer industry.
For me, it’s a matter of wait and see rather than condemn and assume.
P.S. Do we think that Heineken or Asahi drinkers are currently freaking out that their beers are about to go all “crafty”* on them?
*whatever that means
the challenge of identity …
Episode 55 of Radio Brews News, the podcast by Australian Brews News, featured an interview with Adam Ferrier, a consumer psychologist. It is this interview that keeps coming back to me when I think about the loud and sometimes angry reactions on social media, you know the ones I mean, the “grab your pitchforks” variety of comments.
But maybe the upsetting part isn’t that we think our beloved craft brewery has “sold out” but they have betrayed our identity.
For the craft beer drinker the beer in our hands says a lot about who we are as a person. It says we appreciate well crafted beer, it says we want our beer to be made with natural ingredients, it says we want beer made by passionate people and sometimes it says that we are slightly obsessed – insert rare, vintage, barrel-aged, sour, wild, combination of all of these, here. Often what the beer in our hands says is that we support local craft breweries and not big corporations.
Brands have an identity and we reflect ours in the brands we attach ourselves to. Once our beloved craft brewery is in the hands of an overseas company perhaps we feel they have left us with little choice but to cast them aside. Financial, distribution or any other business reasons aside, our feelings are hurt and we don’t identify with them. It’s Arnie in True Lies. And yet they very well may still reflect all the other things we love – the passion, the commitment to quality and innovation – aren’t these still important too?
Another frequent comment is about profits staying local. I do like knowing that when I buy from an independent craft brewer that the money is staying in Australia. I really do. I also love beer and if I want to try something that is owned by Asahi, Coca-Cola, SABMiller then I’ll purchase it and that’s okay too.
This Tweet from Rob Ruminski made me laugh a lot –