Last week two very popular craft breweries were sold to two different macro breweries causing quite the uproar in the craft beer industry. First the very popular brewery Wicked Weed from North Carolina was sold to AB InBev and later Lagunitas from Californa sold off the remainder of their brewery to Heineken. Both sales were met with backlash, less so towards Lagunitas who had already been 50% owned by Heineken the last few years. I think more of the backlash was because former owner Tony Magee made negative comments about those who sold out before him, making him a bit of a hypocrite. Wicked Weed, on the other hand faced huge backlash with over half of the breweries invited to their Wicked Weed Funkatorium Invitational sour beer event. Additionally popular the breweries, Jester King, Creature Comforts and Rare Barrel all pulled out of collaborations with Wicked Weed.
So why was Wicked Weed’s backlash so harsh? It wasn’t because they sold out, but it was because they sold out to AB InBev. It’s important to remember that in the craft beer industry there is a very large disdain for AB InBev, I myself refuse to purchase any of their brands. The reason for this comes down to a single issue: AB InBev has actively campaigned to end the advance of independent craft breweries by controlling retail space and buying up resources. Lagunitas sellout to Heineken was looked down upon by the craft beer industry, but they didn’t get the backlash because Heineken hasn’t actively campaigned against the craft beer industry. Selling out to AB InBev is a slap in the face to others in the industry.
Now I am sure many people will say, well AB InBev owning Wicked Weed or Goose Island is good because now I can get them at my local bar or local beer distributor etc. This statement is 100% true, but many are fail to the repercussions of this fact. Buying popular brands allows them to control a greater percentage of available options at stores and bars/restaurants. If they are able to control what is available in key markets, new and existing independent breweries will face a greater challenge to establish a sustainable customer base. This slows the growth of the craft beer industry as a whole. And while there are tons of tiny breweries that are average and you may not like their beer, there are plenty of new ones who have popped over over the last few years that are quite great. If AB InBev is able to flood the market the next Tired Hands or Tree House may never take hold and instead sputter out even if they are brewing great beer.
In addition to buying up craft breweries, AB InBev has been buying up resources, just this week they just cut off the supply of South African hops by commandeering all the hops that were to be allocated for distribution to North American craft brewers. These hops will instead be earmarked for the breweries owned by InBev’s “The High End” division, including the just-purchased Wicked Weed. These are some very sought after varietals in a new growing region, so it is disappointing that AB InBev has made such a move. This move is the complete opposite of how the craft beer industry treats resources. For example, in the past Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada have used their buying power to share hop resources with smaller breweries selling them at cost which is much cheaper than they would be able to purchase them on the open market. The craft brewing community is about collaboration and very much in the mind set if we one succeeds we all succeed.
Just like with Goose Island, I will no longer be purchasing Wicked Weed or featuring them on this blog in future beer reviews. This is disappointing as Wicked Weed was one of my favorite sour breweries in the US. I am not saying I wouldn’t have done the same thing if someone waved a check for a couple hundred million in front of me, but I can’t in good conscience support them now that they are part of a portfolio that hurts other craft breweries. Cheers!