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TPFThis website response came to me today, when I checked in on this site’s comments for the post called “Top of Tacoma and Lagunitas: The American Quintessence“. I thought about it a couple of hours before replying. I’m glad I did. people have urged me to do that, many times, reasoning that what I’d have to say would be more moderate, more civil. As it turns out…that’s not a slam dunk…

Great piece… Just visited Lagunitas tap room in Petaluma last week and had an experience that was emblematic of your description. Looking forward to going back!

I’m curious why you chose not to comment on their recent partnership with Heineken? I’m still forming my own opinion of the matter, but your opinion of foreign-owned, albeit partially-foreign-owned in this case, breweries is fairly resolute (as far as I can tell by your previous posts). I’m very interested to read your thoughts on why this should be treated differently than other equity deals before it, and why it does not change your opinion of MaGee and Lagunitas.

logoduvel-moortgatAs I’ve tried to explain several times before, both on this site and on Facebook, I have no problem with acquisition of breweries when the reason for the acquisition is a sincere interest in driving the brand forward and not, as is the case with EVERY acquisition by AB/InBev, a cynical attempt to manipulate the craft beer market and purchase credibility that AB is incapable of earning on their own. When Duvel Moortgat acquired both Boulevard and Firestone Walker, I led the cheering. Duvel is a company ABOUT BEER. Their own brewery produces some of the world’s best ales. Their entire history and ethos centers on beer and brewing. THAT is a match that will result in both of those breweries becoming better, just as Heineken’s interest in Lagunitas will help Magee grow his brand and improve availability.

Ommegang Line-up, owned by Duvel for its entire history

Ommegang Line-up, owned by Duvel for its entire history

Look, I’m not some sort of brewing Luddite who thinks things should always remain just as they are. I spent my lifetime as a businessman who SOLD massive quantities of beer and wine. I believe firmly in growth and I completely get that foreign investors WILL want to get involved in something as dynamic and potentially lucrative as the American craft beer culture. But it makes a real, SERIOUS difference to me what the buyer’s motives are. In the case of AB, we have a 100+ year history of cut-throat business practices aimed at eliminating ALL competition. We have countless statements made by their corporate management – both verbally and clumsily “implied” in the advertising – about how AB/InBev STILL, in the face of VAST growth of craft beer and their own falling sales figures, believes that craft beer is something they can overcome and reverse, so they can lead all of us wacky kids back to “real beer” like Budweiser. They continue, DAILY, to fight to hinder, restrain, or even eliminate craft breweries (the ones they don’t own, of course) from distribution and shelf space in major markets and to block its growth by lobbying legislators, as in Florida, to remove any sort of what they call “advantages” for craft breweries…”advantages” which are really nothing more than the basic ability to do business in their own form of brewing, which is fundamentally different from the dispensing of piss-water like BudMillerCoorsPabst. They’ve now tried, by my count, twenty-two different faux-craft beers of their own, many of which carry not a word of their association on the labels, and have failed in every attempt except at stealing an idea from their largest competitor, Miller’s Blue Moon, and turning out the clumsy, nasty Shock Top. Now that they own Miller, let’s see how long Blue Moon, a FAR better beer than Schlock Top, survives…

elysI don’t know how to put this any more clearly: YES, I would LOVE IT if no American breweries sold out to any foreign breweries but that’s business and it’s going to happen. I just draw my line in the sand right at the doorstep of AB/InBev and their cynical, conniving, bean-counting, couldn’t-give-a-shit-less-about-beer, thuggish, manipulative assholes. It’s ANHEUSER-BUSCH/INTERBREW-AMBEV that I object to and I will continue to slam them as hard as I possibly can every time they undo another great American brewery like the current victims, none of whose names you will ever read again here unless it’s to mourn their deaths. For jackasses like those two morons who owned The Artist Formerly Knows As 10 Barrel and Bisacca and Buhler, the two remaining yahoos with Faux-lysian, I have NOTHING but loathing and contempt. Craft beer SHOULD stand for a whole lot of great, fundamental American values and those are NOT for sale. Any foreign brewery which wants to invest in and help advance an American brewery, I’m all for it. AB/InBev…it will never be okay because they are TOTALLY incapable of – and uninterested in – changing their attitudes and heinous business practices.

The Cox Dorks who sold out 10 Barrel

The Cox Dorks who sold out 10 Barrel

I’ll probably wind up answering this question more, as time goes by, and that’s okay. I need to vent pretty regularly, so it’s convenient for me and richly deserved for AB and its collection of Has-Beens. Don’t think for a second, however, that I really believe that the folks in Belgium and Brazil sit up nights worrying about what Steve Body has to say about them, their business practices, their usurped brewery collection, or their beers. My ranting is a flea biting down on an elephant’s ass. But all this SHOULD be said and let me say this – AGAIN! – too: If you fancy yourself one of those Uber-Cool, worldly, above-it-all types who thinks it’s fashionable and sophisticated to take the attitude that it’s perfectly fine for a stated enemy of one of the greatest business cultures ever created in this country to buy its way into a standing in that culture, chanting, ‘It’s just business, man. Chill out!“, you’re not being the worldly, fast-lane, ultra-hip mover ‘n’ shaker you so fervently believe you are. You are, in simple fact, an enemy of that culture. If you aid and abet the dilution and cooptation  of American Craft Brewing, YOU ARE actively helping to destroy that culture. You can posture and bluster and sneer all you like. You can swaddle yourself in brewery swag and haunt craft breweries every weekend with your buds. You can mouth all the right phrases (we still, in Seattle, see that “Corporate Beer Still Sucks” sticker, hanging to walls and car bumpers in all its agonizing irony) and know all the right insider info…and none of that matters. If you work for the destruction of craft brewing, youaretheenemy. Period.

My $.02.

2 thoughts on “A Reader Asks, I Answer: Lagunitas and Heineken

  1. “…If you work for the destruction of craft brewing, you…are…the…enemy. Period…”

    A very pretty and admirable sentiment, but somewhat flawed. Why? Because a good many ‘craft’ brewers are themselves working (no doubt unintentionally) towards the destruction of craft brewing (or at the very least, it’s credibility) and contributing to the increasing meaningless of the term ‘craft brewing’ by making what are often sub-par, amateurish beer and adding insult to injury by selling it at inflated prices.
    Fortunately, beer enthusiasts are starting to become more savvy and selective and are no longer blindly led by the nose by the hype that lately surrounds the world of craft beer.
    There are a LOT of very fine craft breweries making excellent stuff…more than ever But a lot of the newbies in the biz will be in for a rude awakening if their product doesn’t measure up. It has become painfully obvious that “smaller’ and ‘local” do not always equate to ‘better’.


    • You’re arguing apples and oranges, here. The question of this moment in the evolution of craft brewing is “Is it beneficial to craft brewing as a community to allow a company which is actively working to rein in the growth of craft beer into that community?” There is no possible way to see YES as that answer. The marketplace will determine which breweries stay and which go and it’s the lack of quality that will drive that, as it does in EVERY other business segment. I firmly believe that there are too many breweries NOW and that the shake-out of the brewery population is inevitable but it’s not going to be some great calamity or the end of craft beer. It will happen one by one, at a manageable pace, and the culture as a whole will survive. You talk about “sub-par, amateurish beer and adding insult to injury by selling it at inflated prices.” Who’s insulted? Who’s injured? You just said that these breweries are sub-par, so how are you injured or insulted if they prove to be just that? Here’s a thought: go buy beer from breweries you DON’T think are sub-par. Nobody is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to drink beer you don’t like. I suspect that you don’t really like craft beer all that much and that, if we scratched your veneer just a tad, we’d probably find someone who it ready and rarin’ to preach the gospel of America as a second-rate brewing culture that’s clearly inferior to Europe’s. Which I find both laughable and irrelevant. And the very idea that a business segment that has grown at a near-exponential rate over the past 20 years is going to be “destroyed” because a relative handful of breweries are making mediocre beer is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard. Is craft beer going to change? You betcha. Will I like the ways it changes? It’s entirely possible I won’t but I’m not the point, here. America’s tastes have changed and we are NEVER going back to drinking 20 – 50 different shadings of the same watery, insipid Pilsner, ever again. Young American drinkers have come of age without ever once seeing that trash in their parents fridge and they see those crap lagers as quaint beers for old people. And many of them may just disagree with you about what’s sub-par and amateurish. I know of breweries here in Washington that make beer I wouldn’t use to wash my hair and a lot of those taprooms are packed, regularly. You seem to feel that you have some lofty perch above this fray and that your judgments on this are carved in stone. What I see is an underlying agenda and a lot of short-sighted thinking.

      And, as for the business about “the increasing meaningless of the term ‘craft brewing’“, I’m sorry. I just don’t have time or patience for that faux uber-cool shit. “Craft Beer” is a perfectly workable, acceptable term that neatly encapsulates what small independent breweries do and make and this whole business of folks believing they’re demonstrating their surpassing sophistication by deciding not to use it exists, for me, on exactly the same level as tweeners rolling their eyes at their parents when they use the word “groovy”. It’s a cliquish communal attempt by a small percentage of the current craft brewing culture to set themselves apart as being more savvy and evolved in their beer acumen that those around them. I’m FAR, as in a couple of decades, too old for that crap and plan to continue using that term until something else replaces it organically, by common usage. As for all this vis a vis AB, I’m not recruiting an army, here. You want to play too cool to care about AB’s thuggery, knock yourself out. I’m not cool now and never have been and I plan to continue to say this stuff about the evils of aiding and abetting a corporation that’s stated their aim of crippling small American businesses PAST the point at which some people grow tired of it. I believe in one very important and unshakable principle: If you don’t tell what you know to be the truth, you’re lying. And I don’t like liars.


Speak yer piece, Pilgrim.

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