Perusing my personal Facebook page I noticed a friend had shared the latest blog posting of ThePourFool. The author offers a scathing criticism of the recent purchase of 10 Barrel Brewing by AB/Inbev. The post is a rehash of arguments made when Goose Island and Blue Point were purchased by AB/Inbev. Full disclosure – some of these opinions are similar to those voiced when Terrapin entered into a minority agreement with MillerCoors in 2012. And this same commentary will be offered again and again over the next couple of years as more craft breweries are purchased.
These ongoing acquisitions by the large corporate brewers are a very public symbol of the rapidly changing beer industry. And this change in the industry appears to be leading to a split amongst people who support craft beer. When reviewing the comments from the acquisitions mentioned above, we see two camps emerging. One is a camp of indignation and comes with the promise to never purchase that particular brand again. According to members of this circle there are 3,000 other craft brands to try so why waste time on a sell out. Juxtaposed with this is the second camp. These people are delaying judgement and taking a “wait and see” attitude. Their stated intention is to continue to buy the beer “so long as it does not change”.
The first crowd, the ones who promise to never support the offending brand again, are the people who support craft beer because it is local beer. But what exactly is “local” beer? Obviously New Belgium is not local in Minnesota, Terrapin is not local in Pennsylvania, Cigar City is not local in Oregon. Three thousand other examples exist of craft brewers not being local. So “local” must have greater meaning than being brewed down the street.
Maybe it means being crafted by hand in small batches and not with large-scale industrial processes? But how to define that? The number of “local” breweries that are well above microbrew status and are now using automated equipment is surprisingly large and growing daily. Sierra Nevada’s new brewery in Asheville most certainly has today’s most state of the art equipment and therefore it is likely technologically superior to anything AB/Inbev or MillerCoors has in their older plants.
If “local” does not mean being made down the street or being crafted by hand in small batches, then what does “local” truly mean? I believe a “local” beer is one that not only has a story of origin but is made by a company with a passion for beer and the brewing process. And most importantly it means having a reason to exist. A “why”. See Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why.”
So if this first group supports a brewery because of its “why”, then what about the second group? These are the people who adopt the wait and see attitude; the ones who support craft beer because it is better beer. Do they not care about the “why”? Is the taste of the beer all that really matters?
I vehemently disagree with that notion. I believe the wait and see attitude in no way implies not caring about who brews the beer. To suggest this second group does not care about a brewery’s “why” would be disingenuous and unfair. What their wait and see attitude is expressing is actually a willingness to see if the behemoth corporate ownership will change a brand’s “why”. Can a brands reason and its “why” carry over to a larger organization? Or at the very least be protected within that larger company? Group one is saying “NO!” while group two believes only time will tell.
Better beer and Local beer. Are they still the same thing? Can a small company’s “why” continue to exist in a larger corporation? What are your thoughts?