Craft Brewery Sellouts: Let your taste buds decide

Craft Beer

The internet has been in a tizzy since Friday over Elysian Brewing selling to AB InBev. From the outrage, you’d think that people owned a stake in the brewery AND Elysian took their youngest child and sold him to the monolithic beverage consortium.

Was I shocked? Yep. I’ve been to their brewery, I drank beers one night with Dick Cantwell and the Beerthirst guys, heard Dick speak at the GABF media lunch about how passionate he is about the craft brewing association and I’ve had many of their beers. However, my shock doesn’t give me the license to be outraged at their decision. That’s right – it’s their decision, not ours. You heard me, Internets.

Probably only those close to the owners know exactly why they sold to AB InBev. I don’t know their personal reasons, business or financial goals. And I’m not entitled to know this.

Just a couple of months ago, AB InBev bought out 10 Barrel Brewing and it doesn’t thrill me to independent breweries purchased; however I expect we’ll see more takeovers in 2015. What choice does AB have? They can’t market themselves as a craft brewery nor will they get any of us to buy beers they brew. When the big guys have tried to brew a unique beer, they’ve failed miserably. Their clientele doesn’t necessarily have the same adventurous nature as craft beer drinkers – their market is to the person who loyally drinks the same beer every night.

In the past, a brewery takeover meant changing everything in the craft brewery from staff to process. The effect is you get a mediocre or bad beer (think Shock Top) that triggers a craft beer drinkers’ gag reflex. Maybe the big guys have gotten wise as so far Goose Island doesn’t seem to have been affected by the takeover. You all know that you lined up for the Bourbon County series and didn’t give a crap who owned them. You love the beer, you buy the beer.

Those that have stood on their soap box and decreed that they will no longer drink Elysian have every right to do so. If you’re against big beer and only drink from a true craft brewery, carry on. I like to support local (especially my local butcher because damn, their meat is tasty) but a lot of my disposable income doesn’t support what you would consider small batch or craft consumer goods.

I hope that we don’t see a flood of breweries being bought out but sadly, it is inevitable when someone with big pockets is trying to get into the market to save their dying macro demographic. Money talks.

I wish Elysian well and truly hope that if things change at the brewery, they’re for the better. The AB money may help them grow in capacity or allow for more projects. If their quality does decline, my taste buds will make the decision for me to stop buying their beer.

Update:  There is information circulating that the big brewing companies are using their distribution channels to limit the distribution of craft beer.  AB InBev also announced an incentive plan in December 2015 that could see distributors receiving a rebate as high as $1.5M if their sales are 95% AB InBev brands. The latter plan is legal, albeit stifling for craft breweries, but the former alleged claim is being investigated by the US Justice Department.

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