Many people lament big beer purchasing former craft breweries and folding them into the global collective. The reasons behind the aversion vary from person to person. I like to play a game whereby I send out a friend or a family member and ask that person to bring back some “craft beer” from the grocery store. Inevitably, that person brings back a Golden Road or a Saint Archer with a smile on his or her face like “see, I got ur craft beer.” I thank them politely and usually drink one with him or her (I wouldn’t want to be rude). Another fun game I play with my alcohol-free Research Assistant (shout out Paige) is I take a photo of the “craft beer” section of a retailer and ask her to pick out which of the breweries represented in the photo are actually independent. Inevitably, it’s very hard for a non-beer geek to pick out beer that is truly craft—i.e, truly independent.
So consumer confusion is one thing. It exists. It is real. It costs independent beer money. But that is not the main problem with Big Beer’s saltation into the craft world. The bigger problem has to do with price. This is where the starve out strategy comes into play. So when Big Beer buys a former craft brewery, one of the benefits is that Big Beer can brew that “same” beer (many folks would argue that the quality and flavor goes down) for significantly less cost than a true independent craft brewery could. What that means is that a former craft brewery (take Wicked Weed for example) might have been able to sell a half barrel for $190 dollars to see a minimal profit (depending on the ingredients and beer style, of course), but with the production efficiency and backing of Big Beer, that similar beer can now sell for $180 per half barrel (maybe even $170). Profits be damned.
That is the game, my friends. Big Beer can afford to sell its “craft beer” at a loss in perpetuity. And it plans to. Why would Big Beer do that, you ask? It’s actually kind of simple. Sell “like” beer at a loss for as long as it takes until an independent neighbor closes, then another, then another. Once the playing field is empty, guess what will be left: Elysian, 10 Barrel, Wicked Weed—all “craft” beer right? Big Beer is in this for the long game. Independent beer is a pesky mosquito to be swatted or starved out. Then things can return to normal.
If you don’t believe me, take Big Beer’s word for it. Recently, an AB-InBev spokesperson said during an interview that “I think the term [craft] will be gone in a couple years’ time.” Be wary, my friends. It’s so easy not to know who made your beer. Big Beer is hoping, actually it knows, that most people won’t care or won’t bother verifying. That’s the point. Don’t trust. Verify (Sorry Ronald).
And maybe it isn’t a bad thing that the term “craft” is (might be?) dead. Maybe it is time that independent brewers not even bother with that label—after all, it has been bought and/or stolen. Maybe independent craft brewers should just say “we are a brewery.” That might take some of the ammo away from Big Beer’s attempts to be something it is not. But then again, maybe that is playing into Big Beer’s hands. Maybe it desperately wants that term to go away. That way, it wouldn’t have to starve anybody out. And it could start making money on each half barrel tomorrow.
Let me know what you think. Cheers.