The list of Big Beer owned crafty breweries keeps getting larger (many known as ABI’s “High End”). That is, until ABI recently announced that it is out of its craft brewery acquisition phase.  The focus now, according to ABI, will be on an organic growth.  Check out Good Beer Hunting’s article on this topic here:

Perhaps what is most striking in this age of consolidation is the stark contrast between the way independent craft breweries and ABI’s “High End” crafty breweries actually conduct their business. When Big Beer buys a craft brewery, the common refrain from the acquirer and the acquired is that nothing will change, we are still the same people, we just have more of a marketing budget now, etc.  Trust us, we are still craft beer.

Not really.  We got a small glimpse behind the veil last week.  ABI laid off 360 people from its High End group.  Of course, we will hear that it is simply eliminating redundancy, adapting to market changes, or whatever.  Maybe that is true.  But the layoffs are significant and unsurprising to independent craft beer insiders.  It shows that these crafty breweries try to smell like independent craft and try to look like independent craft, but they simply aren’t.

As one laid off High End employee put it:

“It’s just crazy that they created all of that structure just to destroy it in two and a half years. They just let go of 50+ Cicerones at once.

Their PR guy is already trying to spin the ‘360 people is a small part of the 2,000+ employees in the High End’ angle, but the truth is that the brewery personnel has never been considered a part of the High End by those actually on the AB side. They weren’t even included in national calls for reps or district managers. They just cut the well-educated and experienced sales force that was in place to insert new, and cheaper, blood.”

See the GBH website posted above.

In my experience, this behavior is antithetical to what is most important to independent craft beer, namely community, good people, creativity, and just plain old doing the right thing. And it goes to show that the acquired, at least the employees of the acquired, were never really part of the High End, never really had a say, and never really mattered.  This, despite all the nothing has changed rhetoric.

Last week at the CCBA’s California Craft Beer Summit, I saw many old brewery friends and made many new ones (awesome event BTW). I saw people lending each other hops, sharing brewing ideas, discussing collaborations, and generally being good citizens.  Aren’t they supposed to be tight-lipped competitors?  Without equivocation, these folks care about their employees and want what is best for both the business and their staffs.  I even know one owner who paid for one of his brewers to go to a prestigious brewing program knowing full well the guy is too talented to stay around long.  To many, me included, this ethos is what makes independent craft beer such an amazing and inspiring industry.

While I am sure there were good bottom-line reasons for ABI to do what it did, there’s simply a lot more to independent craft than eliminating corporate redundancy, providing career transition opportunities, and workforce reduction strategies. It goes to the heart of the industry–the people.  The beer speaks for itself.

Let me know what you think. Cheers.