Opinions are like assholes AND beer: Not only does everyone have one but some are industrially large while others are artfully crafted.
The news is still sinking in that adorable, warm, fuzzy 10 Barrel Brewing, the homegrown brewery in the quaint, high-desert town in Central Oregon, has been acquired by beer behemoth Budweiser (ABI). The name 10 Barrel had already become outmoded considering the company ramped up to a 50-barrel system in Bend while keeping its original 10-barreler for R&D, added a 10-barrel pub in Boise, and will soon open the doors to its Portland pub* with a shiny new 20-barrel system thereby brining the total to 90 barrels already. Combine this with AB-InBev’s and it’s something on the level of 10 Million Barrels (give or take a few hundred million in overall volume).
Whether you, dear reader, personally take the “Sellouts!” side or fall into camp “Good for them,” and whether your BuyLocalism will lead to you never buying a drop of beer from this brewery now under the Bud-brella or you think that crowd’s just butthurt and it won’t affect your purchasing decision since good beer is good beer no matter who cuts the paychecks, one thing is clear: Oregon beer will never be the same again. Exactly the way it was never the same again when they bought a 30+% minority stake in Widmer Brothers and the Craft Brew Alliance. In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just ask the folks who worked at and drank beers from Chicago’s Goose Island, New York’s Blue Point, Hawaii’s Kona, Seattle’s Red Hook, and, undoubtedly, Anywheresville, USA’s next AB takeover.
*Even more than my curiosity how this will impact the forthcoming Portland outpost, I’m more curious how other brewers in the tight-knit community of Bend brewers will handle this in the short and long term. Naturally, in the now, they’re all ShockTopped, er, shocked. But will it really have any implications for them, financially? The original and graddaddy, Deschutes, is already tracking to brew 2 million barrels by 2020. Worthy just opened with a hefty pair of deep pockets. Add in Boneyard and those four already factor into Oregon’s 14 largest brewing companies. The money’s already there. We still call it “quaint,” but beer is already big business in Bend, also home to a few others.**
**Ale Apothecary, Below Grade, Bend Brewing Co., Bridge 99, Crux Fermentation Project, Good Life, North Rim, Oblivious, Old Mill Brew Wërks, Old St. Francis (McMenamins), Platypus, Rat Hole, RiverBend, Silver Moon, and soon a few more, not counting their neighbors throughout Central Oregon.
In the end, unless the guys from St. Louis, er, Leuven, Belgium, er, São Paulo, Brazil decide to expunge the firepit, revoke the welcome sign to dogs, stop serving kids meals on frisbees, and turn the beer from delicious to disastrously flaccid like some others in their portfolio, this game-changing news will, ultimately, result in a collective yawn like the one yawned every time a beer geek gets his mitts on one of the various bottles of Bourbon County Stout. Or, locally, Widmer Bros. Marionberry Hibiscus Gose.
Y’know what else this means? The Big Boys are really, really paying attention to what Oregon breweries are up to. And they, like us, like what they see.
Interesting take Brian, and welcome back! I think my concern is whether AB/In-Bev is making inroads into the craft market just to profit from it, or to sabotage it from the inside-out. Their (and other macro brewing companies) previous moves to blur the lines between craft and macro and undermine the integrity of craft make it more difficult for me to take this at face value. We shall see what happens, and I withhold any judgement for the time being, but my gut instinct is telling me to worry about this new inroad. Not for 10 Barrel itself, as I can see how it makes sense for them and they have no doubt considered the potential for backlash and weighed it against the benefits, but for this tenuous, and admittedly contrived, label we call “craft beer”.
Thanks Jason. Good to be back. Not sure if I understand your sabotage remark. You think ABI might use 10 Barrel or a brewery like it as a Trojan horse to crumble what the other 3,000 or so true craft breweries are doing and building? If so, would they achieve that through brewing inferior product? Lacing their beer so all craft beer consumers are neutralized? Or something on the level of Elsinore beer in Strange Brew and turning all of us into pugilist hockey nuts bent on world domination? In any case, I don’t think any single brand can wreak that kind of havoc. 10 Barrel has legions of fans that they’ve just alienated and will lose for the very reason the craft brewing segment cannot fall: it’s too vast and strong and wonderful. We have choices. Heck, that’s Falling Sky’s own biggest strength: variety and goodness. Sorry to say, your lack of flagships will also not make you a target for AB’s bottomless blank checks, either.
Guess I better get up off my ass and get to work if that dump truck of money isn’t showing up soon. My sabotage remark certainly isn’t to suggest they could take down craft beer (and I agree that quality will win out), simply that it will muddy the waters even further of what is craft beer. Goose Island didn’t change much at first, but that “craft” beer is being brewed at AB plants across the country. Is it really a “craft” product at that point? Or is it just a macro brewery making a better product than they used to capture the growth sector of the market? And this doesn’t take into account the current pay-to-play controversies and the power of A-B distributor networks. There is certainly a decent chance that A-B affiliated craft brands will grow at the expense of the little guy, often through unsavory and even illegal tactics. I am by no means doom and gloom about it, but I do think there is some danger inherent in AB InBev’s aggressive interest in craft breweries.
Speaking as a personal fan and not some industry commentator, yes, not only does it muddy the waters of which breweries are craft and which are not, I’m not happy about the transaction. But that’s where my personal feelings end (and it goes without saying that, when faced with an option between a 10 Barrel beer and another one I’m interested in having which is to say ALWAYS since, God bless America there’s always multiple options) I’ll always pay for the beer that will keep my money in the local economy. But that’s just me and every other devoted beer lover. If someone’s either not aware, not paying attention, or simply doesn’t care, then it’s their prerogative to knowingly or unknowingly enjoy a beer brewed by ABI. But in the long run, everyone who gets sucked into this craft beer whirlpool via Goose Island and now 10 Barrel beers and marketing, they will discover and turn to the 3000+ beer producers who don’t share some profit-driven parent corporation. The more Big Beer tries to play in the sandbox with Little Beer, the more Little Beer’s market segment grows.
Also, this isn’t the right thing to say to someone who owns a Little Beer company, but what beer lovers want most is really great beer. Personally speaking, if I’m faced with 3 taps: 1) Goose Island Bourbon County Stout or IPA. 2) 10 Barrel Apricot Crush or Apocalypse IPA. 3) Joe Blow’s Nano IPA that for some reason isn’t very good, I’d buy the best beer possible. Luckily the majority of craft beers in the market today are pretty good. I don’t think there’s anywhere left in this country that doesn’t have a local option that can’t contend with whatever now-faux-craft company ABI throws a bit of money behind. Part and parcel of that is a highly educated, passionate consumer base that will not stand for their favorites being pushed out of the market by ABI’s mu$cle.
Sweet fuck. Could we PLEASE decide whether ‘craft beer’ is about the BEER, or about who MAKES it?
Who cares about “craft” beer? There’s beer you want to drink and there’s beer you don’t want to drink. There’s beer you feel good about spending your money on and there’s beer you don’t. We have seemingly unlimited choices. Because sweet fuck, this is AMERICA (cue fireworks).
All I care about is beer. How I feel about breweries that make it changes from day to day. But I’m tired of hearing about how the rainbow-farting unicorn-riding craft brewers are all wonderful and that’s all that matters. Because they aren’t, not all of them. And I really don’t need someone telling me why I shouldn’t drink a beer when they don’t think that way about everything they buy.