Bud’s purchase of Wicked Weed concerns local craft brewers

By on July 5, 2017

Sophie Bennewitz is vice president of the Weeping Radish Farm Brewery

By Sophie Bennewitz

The purchase of Wicked Weed Brewing Co. by Anheuser Busch-InBev — more commonly known as Budweiser — has sent shockwaves through the brewing world.

Beer enthusiasts are boycotting in disgust, and small breweries are berating them as sellouts and hypocrites.

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This storm is changing the brewing industry as well as forcing consumers to reconsider the terms microbrewery and craft brewery.

AB-InBev controls a massive share of the beer market, a share that has ballooned since the Department of Justice approved its merger with SABMiller.

This international behemoth is powerful enough to secure legislation that restricts competition by changing distribution laws and freezing small breweries out of accounts.

Trying to count all of the brands in the AB-InBev portfolio is like counting the heads of a hydra: more keep popping up. Bass, Beck’s, Lowenbrau, St. Pauli Girl, Best Damn Brewing Company, Landshark, Stella Artois, Rolling Rock and Shock Top are just a few of the more well-known names on that list; the company’s tentacles have over 60 percent of the global market in their grasp.

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“I believe the North Carolina Brewer’s Guild should come up with some kind of independent label for beer,” said Eric Reece, co-founder of the Outer Banks Brewing Station in Kill Devil Hills. “As the big brewers gobble up more and more small breweries, it will be hard to tell who’s who in the marketplace for the consumer.”

Distributors associated with AB-Inbev offer their stores and restaurants discounts, services and free promotional materials for prominent or even exclusive product placement.

Karen Loopman-Davis, Outer Banks Brewing Station’s front-of-house manager and wife of co-founder Aubrey Davis, said, “Once Anheuser-Busch or Constellation Brands, etc., acquires a microbrew, there’s nothing on the label that tells the consumer it’s owned by a multi-national — it continues to look like it’s brewed in a converted barn next to a hop field.”

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She expanded on the idea of an independent label, saying, “I would like to see some sort of certification system by the Brewer’s Guild that a beer can’t be called ‘craft’ or ‘micro’ if it’s owned by a conglomerate.”

The only real way to fight back against the mega-breweries is to buy and drink locally — not just a craft beer or a microbrew from 100 miles away, but the closest breweries to consumers’ homes. If consumers ask breweries to sell their beers in their neighborhoods no matter how far away they live, then they are asking breweries to grow. They are asking them to invest in bigger equipment, more staff, more expensive packaging and distribution.

Microbreweries cannot expand to such a degree and still retain the charm and personality that makes them stand out amongst the crowd.

New Belgium Brewing is one example. They are a brilliant company with strong commitments to their employees and the environment. However, visitors do not tour New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins, Colo. to discuss different malts or hop strains with the brewers. Beer can be considered almost incidental to the tour; the real attraction is the spectacle of the vast facility, massive grain silos, and canning lines that create a rattling labyrinth around the room. They have done an incredible job promoting craft beer culture, but now they are another ubiquitous tap on a bar lineup, not an exciting microbrew.

Big breweries are not necessarily bad or incapable of making good beers, nor should microbreweries only sell their beers within a limited radius. Consumers instead should not be so hasty to judge how their favorite microbreweries get the tools or funding to meet their demands.

An old saying in retail is, “Give the people what they want,” but an even older adage warns consumers to “Be careful what you wish for.” This is the tightrope microbreweries are walking every day, and it is not easy.

Maybe their fans should not be so quick to complain if a microbrewery falls into the net — even if it is held by Budweiser.


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Comments

Discordance

July 19, 2017 11:52 am

IT doesn’t matter all the much whether you call Wicked Weed a craft beer or not because it’s still basically the best beer money can buy.

chaser

July 17, 2017 4:03 pm

If you cant beat em buy em.

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