In the music industry, we say “the music business is more business than making music.” This quote can be applied with many other lines of work, but it especially resonates in fields that involve aesthetics and consumers. In music, people have individual aesthetics in styles, their favorite artists and favorite recordings. The consumers become loyal fans and strongly identify with what they consume. They connect with others who are like-minded and gather together like a family. They adapt their style, matching haircuts, grow beards if applicable, and they even get a t-shirt!
So what happens when that band “sells out” for reasons such as fame, fortune, or expanding their fan base? Fans get upset. They are disappointed and feel betrayed. They have been so loyal from early on.
Sounds a lot like the craft beer world as of late.
Ever since the summer of 2011, when Goose Island Brewery sold all their shares to Anheuser-Busch InBev, there has been a movement where big companies are either buying out or splitting the shares of successful microbreweries. Duvel bought out Boulevard in 2013, AB InBev later bought 10 Barrel and Blue Point in 2014, Breckenridge, Elysian and Golden Road in 2015, and soon Four Peaks in 2016. Even as recent as Dec. 21, London’s five year old Camden Town Brewery decided to partner with AB InBev. Lagunitas split its shares with Heineken, Full Sail was bought by San Francisco’s Encore Consumer Capital in March, and Ballast Point was bought by Constellation a month ago. New Belgium is supposedly looking for a buyer now.
In contrast, Dogfish Head was offered to sell their shares to AB InBev this July, but the owner of the successful microbrewery, Sam Caligione, declined the offer.
Differing opinions about the new movement
The big wigs see that craft beer has become more than just a trend. According to the Brewers Association, the United States has nearly caught up with the number of breweries it used to have pre-Prohibition; most of its exponential growth is from the last 30 years. People want good beer with fresh flavors. In a sense, people can say that craft beer has been successful and has won.
The reactions from the beer community range, from a total boycott, to fully supporting the decisions of breweries. There are some that are indifferent as long as the product still tastes the same. However, it’s a buzzkill for those that love the sense of family/community, or those who have invested by supporting local businesses. There’s a sense of ownership and pride, like they’re a part of something. The other side is all for the expansion and the bigger picture of getting good beer to more people.
Craft beer will have a more prominent presence throughout America. For the rest, it’s merely the enjoyment of the product.
Is there a stance that is more correct, more rational or more loyal than the others?
The beverage with thousands of options
First of all, it’s just beer. Yes, it’s a beautiful beverage that has so much going on with seemingly endless possibilities. But at the end of the day with all its hype and glory, it’s a liquid you put into your body and squirt out within the hour.
People get up in arms about how it’s the worst thing to ever happen to “sell out” and say something like, “Well, that is the last time I’m drinking anything from _______ Brewing,” as they type on Facebook with disdain. There are also complaints of the possibility of quality changing, that “it will never be as good as batch #1.”
When has any beer by any microbrewery never changed!? Stone Brewing‘s Ruination IPA changed twice in the last few years; once people finished weeping and gnashed their teeth, they moved on and continued to purchase the beer. Furthermore, microbreweries are starting to brew for other microbreweries! Firestone Walker for Russian River, Green Flash for Alpine, and many more in the contract brewing world.
There is the valid lament of the brewery becoming big, and therefore, losing that community-oriented charm that people love. Perhaps they might even move physical locations. The good news is that there are more than 3,464 breweries in the U.S. and there’s a good chance that one of them is within 20 minutes from you (especially if you live near a city). Go out and try something different!
I remember working at City Beer Store and always confronting the daily question: “Do you have Pliny?” That’s a fine question, until someone ignores the 80+ IPAs I recommended after I said, “No”.
Different is okay if you give it a chance. If Speakeasy Ales & Lagers ever decided to sell their stocks in order to expand, I can still go to Cellarmaker, and vice versa. I’m sure the people of Santa Rosa aren’t too happy with Russian River Brewing becoming over-populated, but you have to go with the flow. Just like brewing beer, the beer scene is changing organically and you have to adjust accordingly.
Local breweries are a part of the community, regardless of size
Which brings me to my next point: the beer business is more business than drinking beer. There are a lot of behind-the-scenes logistics taking place that is necessary in order for that beer to be delivered smoothly down your throat.
The details of the big business decisions are not in consumers’ minds when we all are feeling happy on good craft beer. I get that. But before people get up in arms about a microbrewery “selling out” — even though us consumers are part of the equation — you must keep in mind that it’s a business. Not only that, there are people running this business with their own personal goals for their company. They are, in fact, trying to make money to pay for bills, support their family, and hopefully move up in life so they can mature.
Even though we as consumers are a part of the equation, we are not the only focus of a brewery. It’s a hard pill to swallow; as customers, the “customer is always right” mentality exists. They are serving us, but we should also be gracious and thankful for what we are able to receive.
Think of it this way: beer is community. Beer is social. We do our best to spread the gospel of craft beer. We do our part to support the small, local microbreweries. If we are about community and support, then why not also support the bigger microbreweries that have a bigger vision for their future?
Wouldn’t it be great if we change from a nation of mostly macro-cheapo-H2O kind of beer to a nation full of pale ales, sours, and stouts? But if you would rather not support these big corporate businesses and instead support local businesses, we need you guys too! I believe that if we all can come from a place of humility and respect for one another, this ever growing thing called craft beer has potential to grow into something even bigger.
Support the small, local microbreweries. Encourage the bigger microbreweries. We’re all in this together.