This is taken straight from Facebook, today, March 15th, 2023. It started with my friend, David Ringler posting the first part on the brilliant, thought-provoking Bavarian Air Force page. What follows are my and his replies. It is quite likely that this conversation will go on for a spell, as he and I are similarly opinionated (while mostly on the same page) but this is what’s been said so far and, hey, he has a great and booming brewery to run, the terrific Cedar Springs Brewing of Cedar Springs and Grand Rapids, Michigan. So maybe this IS it. Even so, the questions raised are being debated far more widely than just David and me. This may well be a debate that never ends: Big Buying Small. It’s GOING TO happen. The question is…WHO is buying and WHAT are their goals?
Bavarian Air Force:
“We’ll repeat a mantra we’ve long espoused: if you care about “craft” beer, you cannot support anything or anyone who sells out to ABI. We know what they are…they’ve proven it for decades.
The mega-corps don’t care about anything other than the $ – not the brand, not the craft, not the art, not your customers or your employees… and despite the promises that “nothing will change, other than improved quality,” that is never true. To the contrary, it’s the kiss of death for these brands and companies.
Oh, well… they got paid. It’s just their supporters and their legacy that loses.”
“The decline at breweries sold out to AB is sometimes slow and insidious and sometimes immediate and dramatic. Elysian, here in Seattle, HAD – before the sale and under Dick Cantwell – produced a bunch of beers that had become bona fide WA icons: Avatar Jasmine IPA (still maybe the best infused pale ale I’ve ever tasted), all the pumpkin beers, the state’s best Imperial Stout, and so on. Now, their arguable flag ship is Space Dust, which provides all the proof anyone needs of how meager and misguided public tastes can be. It is an AWFUL beer and drinkers here have kept it alive for a decade.
10 Barrel has declined somewhat but the presence of Tonya Cornett drags the whole enterprise back from the abyss of mediocrity. I’m not going to thumbnail the whole roster of sell-outs but I am going to echo your point: YES, by damnit, WHO owns your local brewery and WHAT their goals are MATTER. You can babble that, “Just chill and have a cold brewski, dude!” BS all ya like but what AB’s ultimate goal is remains yanking us all away from craft brewing and back to the watery, stoopid embrace of Bud and Bud Light. Their strategy absolutely involves gaining toe-holds in big craft states so that they can legitimately lobby state legislators for rules which benefit NO ONE but AB. Look at where their early acquisitions were and you see that instantly.
AB fervently believes – STILL, in the face of the entire American and worldwide Craft Beer Boom! – that we will all eventually grow weary of flavor and body and intensity and having choices and Come Home to beer that doesn’t require or even invite taste and discrimination and thought.
Anheuser Busch is Dead Beer Walkin’. It’s going to be a process of generations to bring the demise of it about but the WORLD has now discovered what they tried so relentlessly to hide for 120+ years: “beer” means a LOT more than just insipid, dumbed-down Pilsners. We found this out when Average Joes started opening breweries and mostly just ignored Bud and Coors and Miller and Pabst. Now the Habit of kids opening Mom and Dad’s fridge and seeing nothing but adjunct lagers and coming to understand that those are what “beer” means is broken. We are never coming back and the refusal to understand that is maybe AB’s biggest mistake of all.”
“Stephen Body they may not be wrong in “growing weary,” as we look at market numbers….”
“I don’t buy it that anybody but newbies and some percentage of people who were lager fans, to begin with, are growing weary of flavors and intensity. We just simply have a LOT more breweries now than we did fifteen years ago. Law of averages says that a rising percentage of those big beers being made will not be very good or well-made. What styles are still the biggest sellers? IPA and Stouts. Those are still the ones that breweries make to get noticed and make a reputation. Case in point: Crooked Stave, which was always a superb experimental brewery but remained more of a cult favorite. They eventually started – after resisting it for many years – making IPAs and other Brit-styled ales. Their public awareness went up fast.
We have a number of genuinely great lager-centric breweries in WA/OR. Up here, Headless Mumby and Heater Allen are the most prominent and they are both still very obscure. Orlison, over near Spokane, was a wonderful lager producer. They folded even before Covid. Many more breweries are now also making lagers and I hope fervently that that trend continues. But none of the brewers or owners I know tell me that those lagers are their best-sellers. The ONLY brewery in this three state-area that has managed to follow a dominantly-lager business model and make that work has been Chuckanut Brewery and even the gifted Will Kemper has struggled and now includes ales in the mix.
If we’re weary, we’re nowhere near ALL weary, as AB dreams we will be. Up here in the Soggy Corner, we don’t have that significant German/Central Euro population base that exists farther east. (Huge Scandinavian base) There is not such a demand for lagers as you find in Michigan or that I find in my native VA and NC. So, we may not be typical. But we are also NOT a great target area for AB’s grand plan. In Oregon, local craft beers OUTSELL all AB products, even in dive bars. It’s close in Washington. Mac & Jack’s African Amber outsells all but Bud Light, here. In bars and bottle stores.
There is NO scenario in which AB ultimately wins, even with all the dullards who don’t care about who makes their beer. The old saying, “Nothing is so powerful as an Idea whose time has come”? TRUE. No matter how far we recalibrate into lagers – or, God Forbid!, hard seltzer, hard lemonade, and spiked fruit drinks – that will NOT include some mass exodus back to BudMillerCoorsPabst. And ales aren’t going away. The future is a balance of the two, with successful breweries giving customers ales AND lagers that are well and carefully made. And those who can’t (or won’t) make consistently good/great beer will fail. And should.”
The Beat goes on…at least until Ab/InBev finally dwindles to its inevitable place as a beer aisle curiosity, a relic of an era when companies which grow, past their ability to adapt, into a mulish refusal to change and become just faint memories. It happens to all producers. They are NOT immune.