Mergers and Takeovers:  Has the Beer Revolution Been Completed?  Did Someone Win?

It seemed like it was all about love and art; love for taste and character of true beer and the art of creating it. The zeitgeist of activism seemed to cloak the revolutionary struggle between small breweries and the behemoth corporations. Craft brewers gave the world IPAs, saisons, ambers, chocolate stouts, sea salt gose, browns, etc. craft breweries, such as Four Peaks here in Arizona, pushed legal boundaries for production and capacity for craft brewers. 

And then …

Then they started selling out to the mega corporate brewers. Now, takeover after takeover concerns me. Of course, it can be argued that this signals the fact that AB has recognized that we all want good beer. They see the growing numbers of craft beer. Now they want a portion of those increasing sales and are providing distribution to said good beer. So, good beer won the revolution.  

It just feels so icky. 

Were all these brewers just in it for the money? Have they now become the enemy they allegedly fought? Now I am forced to decide: is it about the beer or the philosophy? If the character of these craft beers does not change, if they hold onto the quality and the vision that made them great beers, must I abjure them solely because I disagree with their business model? 

It feels like it’s just about the distribution now and, thus, the profits.  (That seems to be indicated here).  They want their beers all over the country. And, on one hand, why blame them for that? That’s what business is all about and so, on one hand, they can’t be faulted. Interestingly, this is the same capitalistic tumor that afflicted Busch and Pabst and Uihlein and Miller and their ilk at the beginning of the 20th century. They wanted their products all over the nation and ruthlessly pursued that goal. They all did make a solid and consistent product. A product, mind you, not a craft beer. The quality is good, consistent, stable. They have a lot of scientific and marketing resources to throw at their beers. They were in the manufacturing business and were successful. 

Corporate resources and national distribution. I suppose in the beer world this can be seen as the achievement of the American Dream. A small business struggled, fought, created and now has the opportunity to be globally recognized. Success! I guess. It all depends on your definition of that word. 

In regard to corporations and resources, I wonder also how this will help or hinder the raw materials vendors of barley, wheat, and hops? Or the yeast labs? I assume they will still sell the same volume, unless a consolidation of beer recipes occurs at AB’s new breweries or a reduction of offerings is enforced. Doubtless, AB has purchasing contracts and pricing agreements with many of those vendors. So, if they are selling domestic grains at lower prices to AB and higher to other smaller breweries, will that change now to the standard AB cost for the breweries just purchased? I am not a professional brewer and am not familiar with all the pricing structures therein, so I wonder. I wonder, too, how this might affect the home brewing markets. And what about corporate decisions to use GMOs? Oh, super, now the conspiracy begins. 

The world is becoming more and more homogenous it seems. Now the choices in the beer market will be given us. We shall pick from amongst what “they” tell us to pick from. Like good little drones we will say, “behold what many beers there are.” The free market. 
Hiwever, another thought is – what if the beers do not change? What if operations at the breweries don’t change? If Kiltlifter remains Kiltlifter, why should I not drink it on occasion? What makes Four Peaks less of a destination if it remains essentially unchanged?    But some comments by the creators of Four Peaks makes me worry.  They say here that “the beer will improve.”  So they are toying with the recipes?  

That really is the question. Will these breweries remain unchanged? If the taste of the beer is the same, well, what am I whining about? Isn’t it all about the beer?  That leads also to darker questions. If these craft breweries can become part of a corporation and retain their inherent goodness, does that indicate that the beers the corporations have been brewing all this time are actually acceptable products and I’ve just been swept up in an emotional boycott of their business practices? Is it time to rethink my viewpoint on those beers? Dear God, am I going to start drinking AmberBock again?

My solution to avoiding those latter questions is twofold.

Drink Local

A nano brewery in your hometown is most likely not owned by a giant corporation. (Right, Tim, right??) It is the place that creates beers you can only find at home, locally. The white whale beers. Additionally you are supporting your local economy. You’re paying people you know. The people at the brewery are making beer for people they know. At least drink there until the place gets so big it wants to go corporate. 

Drink Your Own.

This whole takeover and merger fiasco fuels my desire to home brew. That is the only true craft beer. Home brew is truly unique, it has true character. It an expression of the home brewer. Yeah, that means at times you get some wonky beers. But some times you also get irreproducible masterpieces. Those beers will be the stories that live on. 

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