Saturday, 5 August 2017

Craft Beer FUBU - or - Why People Get Upset When Breweries Get Sold

I haven't blogged properly in a while (ha! "a while"), largely because I haven't had anything constructive to say. That doesn't stop many bloggers, but I really got to a point where I felt I'd said everything useful. And of course, once you have a financial interest in the game, everyone should take anything you say with a pinch of salt, so what's the point in blogging if people are just going to argue with or ignore you?

But the recent spate of takeovers and reactions to them makes me want to say something. I'm not sure where to start, so lets talk about the most recent - Anchor being bought by Sapporo. It isn't the first time in its history that the brewery has been bought out. The heroic stewardship of Fritz Maytag was of course the result of a buyout, albeit of a company that was by all accounts on its arse.

People get emotionally invested in stuff, to an extent that seems irrational to some. When a brewery is sold, I think it's natural to re-evaluate how you feel about that. I totally get that some breweries need to sell when the owner gets older, or gets bored with the grind of running a business, or just wants to cash out, but it's important that everyone looks at what has happened and asks if they feel differently now.

It's important that people do this because it matters where you spend you money, and who you decide to finance. Arguably, as political power is ceded to a global elite, how you spend your money is your last source of political influence. If you want to give your money to someone who is making beer with great determination but little critical acclaim, that's fine, it's your money. If you want to give your money to local breweries because they are local to you, even if they aren't world beaters, that's fine, it's your money. If you want to give your money to breweries that are the flavour of the month, killing it on Ratebeer, that's fine, it's your money. But it's important to think about it. All of these choices are subjective, driven by the same sort of irrational notions that drive me to buy bright yellow New Balance trainers, or to make people queue for hours outside breweries for limited releases.

So when Sapporo buy Anchor, I'm pleased to see people ask how we should feel about it. When Lagunitas sell 50% to Heineken, it's good to question how we feel about it. And then when Lagunitas sell the other half, we should at least think again, because your money is the only thing that will make a difference. And Ballast Point. And Camden. And Meantime. And who next?

It's fine to change your mind about how you feel based on new information, that's what grown-ups do. It would be a shame if you didn't let things change you, or at least make you re-evaluate things. Is your favourite brewery the same if someone new owns it? I don't know the answer to that, but at least ask yourself the question.

The reason I feel strongly about this is because, of course, it's my livelihood, and I've spent the last 17 years following the FUBU principle - I can't define craft beer, but as far as I'm concerned, it's For Us, By Us. So every time ABInBev, or SABMiller, or Constellation, or some faceless group of investors buy another independent bit of the industry (and it's happening at production, distribution and retail levels) and pass it into consortium ownership, I stop and have a long look at it. I might even solicit opinion online if I don't understand it, but the important thing is at least to stop and question it.

9 comments:

  1. I already decided I'd best not get too attached to one of our (for now) local brewers.

    http://mobile.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Drinks/Beer/Moor-Beer-brewery-eyes-expansion-after-record-results

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    1. I think that there are several breweries who we will see sell before the end of the year, although I don't know if Moor are going to be one of them.

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    2. They insist they would never...

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  2. Not sure if this is happening in the UK yet, but I know of several newish 'craft' breweries here in Virginia which were started by investors, for want of a better word, and whose MO is to build the business and brand quickly with a view to selling on to one of the big boys. I ask myself often why these folks got into the craft beer business in the first place, as most of the 'investors' and 'founders' of such models that I have have met aren't all that bothered about the beer itself, as long as whatever their hired brewmaster is making sells, and thus a proliferation of IPA dominates the market.

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    1. I guess the reason they bother is that they've identified a lucrative market sector and want to pump it for all its worth?

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  3. I think what got CAMRA going in the early years, and what they were initially trying to preserve, wasn't cask beer as a product but the whole social practice of brewing, retailing and drinking beer in 'traditional' ways. That approach was naive and short-sighted - inasmuch as what they were trying to preserve was the latest version of something that had changed many times over the years - but I think the focus on the whole process rather than the end-product was valid. From that point of view, ABI & subsidiaries just aren't in the same game as someone making beer for the love of it, however good individual beers they come out with may be. (Neither are the pump-and-dump merchants Alistair describes, even though they're 'small-scale' and 'independent'.)

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  4. Hello Zak, your email is appearing as invalid, could you please give me your email address?
    thank you

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  5. Hello Zak, your email is appearing as invalid, could you please give me your email address?
    thank you

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    1. Hi Sergio, you can reach me on zakavery@gmail.com

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Sorry about the word verification - the blog was getting spammed to bits.