It is refreshing to read a piece about big beer companies buying craft breweries that isn’t full of the sky is falling hysterics. Usually, a column/blog post like this frets over how big beer is killing the soul of American craft beer by selling out and treating beer like a business and not a religious calling.
I think there are two reasons craft beer fans have such visceral reactions to craft breweries being bought out. The first is touched on in the piece and that is craft beer has built itself on the idea of the small local business taking on the big guys. Craft beer was born of an us vs. them dialectic that gets turned on its head when a craft brewer sells to a big company.
I think that view of craft beer comes at the detriment of craft beer because it doesn’t respect the fact that craft beer is a business and not just a calling. Not only is it a business, it is a hard business that gets harder every day as more breweries open around the country.
When something like Stone laying off staff happens, it is a bucket of ice water to the craft beer system. The writers and other beer people I like the most are the ones who understand how much fun the craft beer business is yet treat the business part of it with the same respect they treat the beer part of it.
Another reason I think the reaction to big beer buying craft breweries is so visceral by people in the craft beer business is many of those people came from big beer. They worked for big beer companies or distributors and they know the shenanigans that go on with big beer not just by the beer companies, but by the bars and restaurants they sell to. They know how much harder it makes the job of getting craft beer in bars and restaurants.
Rarely is it envelopes of cash that change hands. It is more, “We will give you permanent tap handles if you sponsor a festival for $30,000.” For all the talk about how big beer is evil for handing out money, remember for bribery to work, you must have someone willing to take the money. Big beer has the advantage in that it has the money, but they aren’t putting guns to bar owner’s heads making them take it. That is the advantage small craft brewers can’t compete with at all.
I am one of those who hates seeing craft brewers being bought by big beer. There are two reasons. One, I don’t think big beer cares about beer. These are large companies whose primary goal is to sell the most product possible and not the best beer possible. They could just as easily be selling lead pipes. The other reason, I like to think of myself as someone who supports small, local businesses. I think your money is better spent for your community by shopping local whether that be the local craft brewery or the independent bottle shop down the street. However, I also shop at Amazon, Target, and Total Wine.