There are people with whom we become “friends” on Facebook and have never even met in daily life. This is our new paradigm: digital friendships. I contend that these relationships – which many people regard as phony or artificial – can be, in some ways, as close as the more superficial relationships we have with casual acquaintances or co-workers. What do we make friends with, anyway? Our friend’s eyebrows? Nose? Shoes? No, we make friends with the content of their character, their conversations with us, their wisdom or sense of humor. And much of that, their personality and smarts, can be communicated via the internet, just as easily as on adjoining bar stools.
Two days ago, I committed what I – and many others – regard as an egregious lapse of courtesy against a friend whose name I have known for years and whose work I’ve greatly admired for that whole time.
This friend posted a birthday greeting for one of his Facebook friends. That friend was David Buhler, former owner of The Brewery Formerly Known as Ely**an, in Seattle. When he and his partner, Joe Bissaca, sold out to Anheuser Busch, I teed off on them, here, in The Pour Fool. And the other day, I teed off again on Buhler, ON my friend’s post that noted his birthday. Then I lit into his sister, apparently, thinking the person who replied was his brother. I was incredibly ungracious about it and didn’t back off a millimeter, despite a chorus of abuse, except for one aspect.
I apologized to my Facebook friend for barging into his post and landing on Dave Buhler. I was WRONG – dead-bang fucking WRONG – and agreed never to comment on his birthday posts again. Regardless of whatever justification I may feel about the condemnation of Buhler, I absolutely respect that the page belongs to my friend and not to me. I highjacked his purely innocent attempt to observe a birthday of one of his friends and turned it into a forum for my grievances. I apologized for the rudeness and will not repeat that behavior. I apologized to that friend, NOT to Dave Buhler. That page is my friend’s forum and HE, not yours truly, gets to set the rules there…
This, right here, is mine.
When I trashed Buhler and Bisacca after the sale, I did it deliberately, with great malice, and don’t regret one syllable of it. A week or so passed. I took a lot of shit from people who felt I had been unfair to these two, refused to back off an inch or retract anything, and watched as the situation evolved. Their third partner, Dick Cantwell, resigned from the brewery, rather than betray the craft brew culture by doing what Buhler and Bisacca have continued to do, ever since: passing off a wholly-owned subsidiary of Anheuser Busch as a craft brewery. To be precise about this, there is no more “Ely**an Brewing” in Seattle. That brewery is now, accurately, Anheuser Busch Seattle. It’s the same with all those others who sold out. Breckenridge Brewing is now Anheuser Busch Colorado. Devil’s Backbone is actually Anheuser Busch of East Bicycle, Virginia. Karbach: AB Texas. Four Peaks? AB Arizona. ABLA, Aka Golden Road Brewing. 10 Barrel is rather transparently Anheuser Busch of Bend, OR. “Blue Point Brewing” is a pseudonym for ABNY. Wicked Weed Anheuser Busch North Carolina, RateBeer.com is reduced to ABRateBeer.com…
…and the first craft brewery to sell out to AB, Goose Island Brewing of Chicago, is now, literally and practically, Anheuser Busch Brewing Company of Chicago, Illinois.
This is not hyperbole or any attempt to insult all these breweries and their present staffs. It is aimed solely at their former owners…and I’ll get around to them in a few minutes. What this IS…is an attempt to introduce some honesty into this ongoing discussion. These companies may have retained the original owners as figureheads – hood ornaments, as I have come to think of them – but they are, in fact and legally, owned by Anheuser Busch and its parent company, AB/InBev, based in Leuven, Belgium and in Brazil. These are now foreign-owned breweries and, as part of the world’s largest “brewery”, they no longer qualify as “craft breweries” under any known definition of that term. They may have the original signage and you probably will never see any banners around that say, “A Wholly-Owned Subsidiary of AB/InBev“, but that’s just because AB knows now and has known for at least the past 25 years that MOST of us who have been involved in the Craft Beer Boom see them as the minions of Satan, if not actually Satan himself. Their 120 years history of corporate thuggery and ruthless suppression of the entire American beer industry was what drove me to hate them but then they also set themselves up as a blatant and committed adversary to the entire Indie/Craft culture, speaking and acting as if our decision to drink something else was either just youthful folly or an organized attempt to usurp what they see as their Divine Right to dominate All Things Beer in America. They endlessly ridicule small, independent American brewers as “amateurs” and the beers as “bitter and stale“, ridiculing the idea that creative brewing is a legitimate occupation. Their tactics include massive ad buys and signage that ridicules craft beer and, of course – because they are SO self-absorbed that they really do NOT pay much attention to what’s happening right in front of their noses – they’ve become laughing stocks for a number of their smarmy, self-congratulatory ads. Prime example: their notorious Super Bowl TV spot, in which they singled out – as the sign of effete craft pretension – a “Peach Pumpkin Ale”…which a brewery they had acquired about sixty days earlier, the aforementioned “Ely**an”, has just produced a month before. These are the people who declared open war on craft brewing, while saying, out of the other side of their mouths, they see themselves as “a friend to brewers everywhere“.
Many of the owners of those craft breweries who bent over and greased up for AB had, themselves, made loud and brash statements about the evils of AB. Buhler and Bissaca actually produced a beer called “Loser”, a Pale Ale whose label and package and promotional materials bore the slogan “Corporate Beer Sucks“. They even tried to keep that package bearing that slogan but it’s not there, today, because it was too much of an invitation to ridicule. As it should be. And, right up until the day that the sale was announced, Ely**an’s customers held the same grudge against the oppressive tactics and attitudes of AB that the brewery’s owners did. One employee told me later that he had asked Bisacca, about 18 months pre-sale, if the brewery would ever be sold to a large corporate interest and got this reply: “No fucking way.”
All of these people are different personalities and make different beers. But one thing about them has become suspiciously and almost eerily identical: suddenly, as though by a miracle, selling a brewery to the avowed enemy of the culture that built their own businesses…was okay. Just like that, as if…as if by Magic; many of them literally the same day that they signed the papers. It may be a little Alex “Douchebag” Jones-y of me to suggest it but it’s…it’s almost like Anheuser Busch’s marketing department produced a list of talking points for their newly discredited hood ornaments to use in speaking about their Whore-Out Moment and told them to just keep on repeating that and For God’s Sake, STAY ON MESSAGE!
“This will help us grow and make Better Beer!”
“This will make it easier for you to get our products!”
“This will mean that our brewers can be even more creative!”
“This doesn’t mean, anything, really!”
“We expect a great partnership* with AB/InBev and they’re just here to advise us and make us more efficient!”
And my own favorite…
“Nothing has changed!”
(* My ass.)
I have personally watched people parrot that last nugget twice, in person, and saw actual spittle flying from their mouths. That’s the Hail Mary of these empty phrases; the fall-back exclamation when it appears that your bullshit is not selling. “Nothing has changed! Really. We’re just the same company you’ve known and trusted (translation: “handed over your money to”), all this time!”
And what has happened, in every case, has been a tsunami of disapproval and even outright hatred from customers who gravitated to craft beer, in the first place, as an alternative to the corporate greed and mediocrity and thuggishness of faceless corporations like AB/InBev. We created and supported the Craft Beer Boom as a statement that we are DONE with watery, insipid, tasteless shit beers like BudMillerCoorsPabst and want Options, Alternatives. We would rather spend our dollars for beer that tastes good and supports our friends and neighbors and our own local, state, and American economies. Craft beer happened, at least in part, because of the loathsome reality of AB.
We rejected lowest-common-denominator lagers and their sleazy marketing campaigns and obnoxious marketplace omnipresence and the empty suits that drive their dominance. And it’s working. Craft brewing continues to grow, while AB/InBev, which now owns Miller and Coors, (internationally; the sale violated US anti-trust laws, so Miller and Coors now operate under separate licenses) continues to lose market share.
And all of this is hopeful and positive…but some rather, uh, privileged people are having misgivings. Almost to a person, all these sell-outs are still trying, with increasing desperation, to carry on as though “nothing has happened!“. They all, by their own admission, enjoyed being a part of the American Craft Beer culture. And the idea – the reality – that they are now excluded from the fun of sitting at The Cool Kids’ Table doesn’t sit will with newly-minted millionaires who are thinking their fat bank account now means they have the world by the ass. They cashed in, most of them, because they didn’t like limitations or hearing the word “No” and here are all these people now telling them they’re no longer invited to hang out with the Beer Elite and be thought of as Hip and Groovy. Why, they just Arrived and are now being told that they can’t even get off the plane! It’s just…not fair.
Well, yeah, it is. It is the very essence of fair. It is justice reduced to its purest form: you profess to love something and then treat it like your bitch and then whine when you run afoul of the rules and find that that Thing – that valuable, wonderful Thing that YOU helped create…that thing is placed off limits. It’s Instant Karma, folks. They all KNEW, full well, that selling their breweries to AB would make the outcasts -or, at very least, semi-toxic – within the craft community. All who came after Goose Island saw how angry consumers would be about whoring out to the enemy of their culture, and how miserable their own employees would be, bearing the taint of their new ownership, and they did it anyway. NOBODY walked into this situation with their eyes shut. John Hall, former owner of Goose Island, has been the most realistic about it, going about his business and enjoying not having the day-to-day stress of owning two large businesses every day (he also owns a restaurant or two) and actually working for AB. He, at least, owned what he did, took the condemnation without comment, and got on with his life.
But the rest of these yahoos continue to pose as members in good standing of the American beer culture. A couple of the more clueless have even continued some bizarre charade of being Craft Beer leaders. Meg Gill, who with partner Tony Yannow, sold their customers out at LA’s Golden Road Brewing, has lately tried to pretend that the sale didn’t even happen! In an interview with Oakland’s fine East Bay Express, Miz Gill said this about AB and “her” brewery’s planned pub in Oakland…
“They have nothing to do with this,” Gill insisted. “Anheuser-Busch reads the articles [criticizing Golden Road] and they’re like, ‘What the hell’s going on in Oakland?’ This isn’t, like, a stake in the ground. There’s no market-share grab….There’s no ‘evil empire.”
Ms. Gill, from all appearances, is somewhat, uh, LA-grade entitled. Also, not very bright. She was openly resentful of the vocal opposition to “her” brewery’s proposed presence in Oakland, telling the Express…
“I think that your articles are abusive. I think that you’re incredibly discriminatory against a successful businesswoman who has done well, partnered with a big beer company, and is now wanting to build in Oakland, just like Rare Barrel or any of these other guys,” she explained.
In other words, the logic-challenged Ms. Gill actually thinks that a locally-owned start-up like Rare Barrel is no different from an LA interloper who’s ONLY trying to get a toehold in the SF Bay market to gain leverage for Anheuser Busch’s thuggery AND says that AB has “nothing to do with” their own brewery’s plans to move into the Oakland market…but then calls them her “partner”. (I don’t really like liars or the willfully delusional but I think, if you’re going to live in an alternate reality, you should at very least try to keep your story straight and be a little slick about it. Mama Gill, here, contradicts herself repeatedly, in ONE visit to Oakland. Being a bad brewer is one thing. Being an oblivious, clumsy steward of your own twisted narrative is is quite another) No, Meggie, you are an EMPLOYEE. You work for Anheuser Busch. THEY own Golden Road, not you and Tony. Take a look at your bank account, Miz Gill…perhaps that will jog your memory.
John Hall may have sold out to AB, which does make him a sell-out, in my book, but he’s also Not Stupid. He knew there would be backlash and knew that he was no longer the owner of Goose and that he had no seat at the community table. He went about his business. Result?
When was the last time you read or heard any criticism of John Hall?
Answer: MAYBE seven years ago, just after the sale but very little since. Hall accepted that he was now a pariah and owned that. Those who have come after him have been incredibly stupid about how to handle the transition from Homie to Whore and NONE seems to have taken a cue from Hall. Whining loudly and parading around at beer events like you actually buy the corporate line about “Nothing has Changed!“, and becoming combative online with those who take their shots is a sure-fire way to continue taking the same abuse for many, many years.
So, here it is, whiners: STFU. Shut Up and GO Away. Quit smiling that tight little smile, like a lock-jaw victim, and accept what you originally thought when you decided to sell: “I may take abuse but I’m gonna have a LOT of money!”
You have that money. THAT is what you have left of your reputation and good will of craft beer fans. Yes, it is entirely possible that, especially in our currently bankrupt societal decay and amoral crassness, you may eventually outlast all of us malcontents who now call you Butt-Boy and Ho. But you had just better hope that you sold out in your twenties because there are still a LOT of us and we’re recruiting. Oh, you’ll find a few amoral dickheads who don’t care about the Craft Beer Community and live by the Slacker’s Beer Mantra: “Who cares who made it? Have a beer and CHILL, Dude!” And you are certainly welcome to those pea-brains because they contributed ZERO to the growth of the Craft Beer Culture and are the polar opposite of what it’s about.
My objection to your antics – and that pathetic, pitiable pose of still being Inside The Tent, grinning and glad-handing and telling yourself that you’re still the same cool guy as before and studiously ignoring the dark muttering and audible insults that follow you everywhere – is that, like my own swing at Dave Buhler on a friend’s Facebook page, it’s RUDE. It attempts not to so much excuse a major and paradigm-altering decision that affected not only you but THOUSANDS who were your fans, as to ignore it and pretend it just didn’t happen. Meg Gill can almost be forgiven for her posturing and her Raft Trip Down Denial, as she exemplifies every cliché of LA pretense and self-absorption but what is Dave Buhler’s excuse? What is Walt Dickinson’s? How about Bend’s execrable Cox brothers?
Many of those old axioms that we all toss off, in place of actual thought, DO have valuable kernels of wisdom within them, even if they are beaten to death by sheer repetition. For every shaky, morally (not to mention legally) questionable nugget like, “Spare the rod, spoil the child“, you get the bedrock wisdom of “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers” or my grandfather’s fave ” It’s a poor dog that won’t wag its own tail“. There is one old saw that you “owners” of these former craft breweries should take to heart and if any of you have never heard it, allow me…
“You Made Your Bed, Now Lie In It.”