“It Is Happening Again…”
Yeah, I feel okay about culturally misappropriating a Twin Peaks line and meme. I earned it, bucko. I put in TIME with that series and have stayed hands off for decades.
But, TODAY, on the day in 2022(!) when I have to read that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe V Wade, I also get the word that…and I can hardly believe I’m typing this…STONE BREWING, of all the American breweries – hell, businesses! – that I could imagine reading this about, has been sold to a huge JAPANESE brewing conglomerate, Saporro Breweries, Ltd. This DEMANDED that the giant, played by the wonderful Carel Struycken, show up here…so there he is, in the header. But it’s just…not enough. This is STONE BREWING, not some dinky-ass Wicked Weed or Devil’s Backbone or Breckenridge. It’s STONE – Double Bastard, Stone IPA, Crime, Punishment, Xocoveza, and all those. I needed the bigger guns and this is the Nuclear Option…
That’s right: I went Kitty and I make NO apologies. Stone, Roe v Wade…what’s next? Selling ad space on the American flag?
My immediate reaction went onto Facebook:
“When I was running Joeys Pizza in Seattle, back in the mid-90s, we hired a kinda sketchy guy and gave him a door key and tasked him with ONE job: making the dough ball for the pizza flats. That worked okay for ONE week, until I came in one morning, walked into the back room, and found him screwing the doughball. Fifty-five pounds of dough in the dumpster…“
SORRY!! Wrong post!! Here…in reaction to the announcement, which I read from my good friend, David Ringler and his indispensable Bavarian Air Force…
“It’s not so much the acquisition BY Sapporo that is so objectionable, just as it was not with AB for everything they bought. That all figures. Large WILL buy Small. It’s the way of the business world and always will be.
It’s the capitulation, the weary acceptance of what I FIRMLY believe is the notion among owners of large breweries that such sell-out moves are inevitable. Stone, of all damned American breweries – with few possible exceptions – was positioned to continue to operate profitably (unless there’s something they’re keeping a BIG dark secret) for the foreseeable future. Stone SEEMED as solid as their name suggests. I would have loved to have been in on that conversation about this sale and able to argue against it. Whether they feel it IS really inevitable or not, it DOES weaken and dilute the craft beer culture and help eventually turn it into just another commodity like toaster pastries, clock radios, and salad bowl sets at CostCo.
Remember the MAGIC of the early days of craft brewing? The FUN, the sense of actual community, the delightful feeling of Stickin’ It to The Man that came with telling Anheuser Busch to ‘go suck it, we don’t need you, anymore?‘
Not QUITE gone but definitely weakened and aching and, honestly, in today’s market, the inheritors of this grand culture, the seltzer dorks and the milkshake IPA and pastry Stout weenies, DO. NOT. GIVE. A. SHIT.
Now, let your readers see this and brace for the “Dude, just relax and have a cold brewski!“
It is categorically NOT impossible for an American brewery to grow, flourish, expand, and thrive and PAY PEOPLE, including the owners, and not sell out eventually to some mega-corp or brewing conglomerate. It is NOT the inevitable end-game of being a successful business. In the final analysis, it comes down to the bedrock values of those who own the company and how much and in what sense they honor and respect their customer base. There is a sorta parrot-like chant that ALL – every damned ONE – of our growing crop of sell-out breweries adopt within what seems to be mere minutes of signing the papers and having their big Cha-Ching! Moment when that check slides across the table: “Nothing has changed! We’re STILL ______________ Brewing and the beer will be just as good, only now more people will be able to enjoy it! We can make MORE beer! Really, NOTHING Has changed!“
I can’t make my rather lyrical prose convey the actual spittle-flying and glassy-eyed semi-trance state of those saying these things; saying them with a fervor that recalls those zombified kids in the white robes who used to roam shopping centers and airports, cornering hapless strangers to slobber out a chorus of “Do YOU know the Reverend Sun Myung Moon?!?” One of the best examples was right here in Seattle, when AB/InBev bought Ely**an Brewing, before turning it into a neo-Red Hook, when two of the partners ran around babbling like mynah birds “Nothing has Changed! Nothing has Changed!!“, fooling exactly no one. Some, like the impossibly light-weight Megan Gill, FORMER owner of Golden Showe…uh, I mean Golden ROAD Brewing in LA (la-la-la), playing the sexism card, as in an interview with an Oakland magazine which dared to suggest that maybe Oakland didn’t need a Golden Road pub: “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.” Ms. Gill denied, in several interviews, that she had any connection at all with the new 100% owners, Ab/InBev of Leuven, Belgium.
This from The East Bay Express: “In fact, she suggested more than once that Golden Road wasn’t really even associated with Anheuser-Busch, even telling a group of residents on Wednesday that ‘non-factual opinion columns’ are trying to paint Golden Road as part of Anheuser-Busch, and that such reports are — her words — ‘fake news’.”
What form this species of Denial is going to take from Stone will be by far the most interesting transition we’ve seen in any of these acquisitions. They COULD – and I apologize abjectly for this – “STONEwall” everybody and just say, “No comment” and let us all vent until we move on to the next outrage. And maybe that would even be their best move. But it’s the most interesting in that Stone has, by light years, the most ‘slpainin’ to do. Stone, from the git-go, has positioned itself as the slightly shady, somewhat menacing, iconoclasts of modern American craft brewing. Their logo included a sexy rendering of, well, Satan or a gargoyle or some equally reptilian creature. The names of the beers reinforced the image: “Arrogant Bastard”, “Double Bastard”, “Ripper”, “Rituale”, “Ruination”, “Revengeful Spirit”…well, you get the idea. Even the message on the bottle, usually something like “We made this beer with LUV!”, was…kinda different…
Any of that seem to you like the unflinching Statement of people who would someday sell to a huge Japanese maker of exactly those “tasteless fizzy yellow beverages” they stuck a pitchfork in on every bottle of Arrogant? Doesn’t to me. That reads like “Fuck you. We’re doing this OUR way!” Well, as of June 24th, 2022, they’re doing this Saporro’s way and cashing a BIG check and probably frantically revising their label copy, even as I write this.
A Japanese corporation owns Stone Brewing. Even typing that is, again pardon the pun, an “out of Body experience”. It doesn’t seem real. This is WAAAAY worse than the sale of Goose Island or Ely**an or 1/2 Barrel (formerly 10 Barrell, now Anheuser Busch Bend). Those were pretenders to stature of Stone; wannabes, aspirants. They were good breweries but none had Arrived. If they had Arrived, they would have found Stone waiting for them and Stone would have owned their hotel.
Here’s what’s ultimately so awful about this, so shockingly offensive that I am sitting here literally quivering with the insult of it all: this is NOT, no matter how the fuck the Stone ownership tries to spin it and no matter how many post-teen, bi-lingual junior copywriters Saporro allots to doing Damage Control for their new Shiny Bauble…the biggest Shiny Bauble yet in the international game called “Let’s Buy Cred That We Can Never Earn Any Other Way in American Brewing!”…all that is no matter at all. What this IS, every fuggen time, is a MASSIVE insult – whether they even realize it or not – to all those people who have responded to the vaguely-sinister, unbearably-hip image of Stone and the impossibly Right fit of those beers with that image. This not only says, “Yeah, great, thanks, but your history with us was just not enough. You can now do business with some folks who are taking YOUR dollars out of YOUR economy, ’cause we got a date with some realty agents in the Bahamas and we don’t wanna be late!“, it says it with that very same sneer that was always on the face of that Stone gargoyle, implied in every word of Stone promo copy. It was turning their customers’ affinity for the brewery’s quirky, bad-boy appeal back upon them and flogging them with it. Every single sale like this, to whatever scale corporation or whether the buyer even has a connection to beer and brewing at all – and Saporro surely IS a brewing company FIRST – dilutes the character of American Craft brewing. It weakens what was the primary strength and virtue of US Indie Beer: independence. “Small and Independent” is such a bedrock value in Indie/Craft brewing that it even has its own badge, worn proudly by THOUSANDS of brewers’ wares, all over this country…
Let’s make no mistake about it: this is a thing worn with Pride. There are dozens of examples of breweries that were approached by AB and other international corporate interests and said, “Hell, NO!” because of that very pride in accomplishment. These people understood what was at stake if they took the quick bucks and ran. They understood the value of being able to go on liking that person whose face they shave every day. (Or legs, in the case of women-owned breweries)
I’ll say this bluntly and the (now former) owners of Stone won’t like it; the sale of a brewery the stature of Stone is a failure of essential character and values. It is a weakness exposed, a flaw exploited. This is not Saporro’s fault, any more than it’s the fault of a cougar when it eats your pet cat. That is the stronger obeying their natural impulses and their corporate Mission and serving their stockholders. Saporro is not supposed to give a damn about the impact on Stone’s lofty rep or even the feelings of their (now Saporro’s) customers. Corporations assume a certain amount of disaffection when acquiring a new property. They accept that there will be those who object, are offended, and who will never come back to the brand. If you’re a patron of Stone, you are already figured in, either way. If you remain brand-loyal, great, from their view. If you swear off Stone forever, well, see ya later. Matters neither way, much. This is 110% Stone’s blame to shoulder. No court forced this sale. No one held a gun to the heads of Stone’s ownership. They saw a Cha-Ching, got that swoony feeling, that tingling in their nether regions, and grabbed the payday. STONE – the former Stone, not the wholly-owned subsidiary of Saporro Breweries, Ltd. – is to blame for this and if they object to having this pointed out or to being cast as the villains, well…Tough Shit. They have all that lovely money with which to console themselves and I hear the weather in the Caribbean is gorgeous in June-July. They can go sit with toes in the sand and tell each other they did nothing wrong, did the smart thing, chant “Nothing has Changed!” like speed-addled Hare Krishnas and they will eventually convince themselves, as all the former sell-outs have, that they did not a damned thing wrong…
And that, too, will be their fault.
RIP, Stone Brewing. For a grand and golden era, you were among the very best. Now…just another corporate stooge, desperately trying to Maintain.