6 Feb 2014

Musings on the news


Before I start, I want to get this off my chest. Breweries don't “sell out”. They aren't indy rock bands singing about teenage angst and the struggle against The Man with cryptic lyrics, they are businesses; assets that can be bought and sold like any other. An owner that sells a brewery isn't betraying anything or anyone, is only accepting what they believe is a good enough offer for those assets.

Now that we've made that clear, let's carry on.

The sale of Blue Point Brewing to ABIB has been, and will be, much discussed, just like it happened with Goose Island a few years ago. Since neither of those breweries are part of my beer ecosystem, I would need to dig very deep to find a single fuck to give about their fortunes and I can't really be arsed with that. As far as I'm concerned, it was a good decision by the owners, and I congratulate them for that.

There are other people, however, who naturally have a few fucks to give about this. One of them left a comment on my FB page saying: ”It is going to have great significance. Will this be the same as in the 60s and 70s in the UK where the five mega brewers systematically bought up small brewers and then consolidated production into their existing plants and closed the local breweries down?” Though this person might be overreacting a bit, I believe that there are people in the industry who are asking themselves a similar question, as it is clear that macro brewers aren't done shopping yet.

Personally, and from a distance, I doubt there's much of a risk of this having any significant impact in the industry as a whole. The “Craft Brewery” branch is, at least in the US, very healthy. Soon there'll be more than 3000 brewing companies operating, and there's certainly room for more, and most of them are not, and are not likely to ever be of any interest to the likes of ABIB, either because they don't make enough beer, they haven't got a wide enough distribution, or their brands don't have very much of a potential for growth. As for the others, the ones that meet that criteria – and I don't know how many can there be – it is safe to assume that many of their owners would never consider selling their companies, regardless of how much they are offered or who offers it, whatever their reasons might be. The question is, what will happen when they retire?

I'm not a big fan of the figure of the rock star brewer, but I'd be stupid to deny that it is a great marketing and branding tool. They give their companies a human face, one that many people can relate to. Sooner or later, however, even the most “passionate” of them will have to hang their gloves. Will their companies be able to survive without them?

One of the reasons that I remember being mentioned behind the sale of Boulevard Brewing Co. to Duvel, and also Goose Island to ABIB, was that their owners were concerned about the future of their companies after their retirement (I wish I could provide links, but I can't remember where exactly I read it). Which is very understandable, there are many examples of companies didn't survive long after their founders had left the building, or that at least became a shadow of their former selves.

To me, this is the sort of thing the sort of beer geek who gets their panties in a twist every time an independent brewer becomes part of a much larger corporation should be asking themselves. What is better a Goose Island-so far-like scenario, or a once proud brewer falling apart due to lack of able management?

Na Zdraví!

1 comment:

  1. An Anonymous Boozer6 February 2014 at 14:27

    I can understand why people consider would consider it selling out. If a brewery prides itself (and markets itself) as being 'small', 'local', 'independent' and in some way 'different' to the big guys, if they then 'sell out' to one of the said big guys I can see clear parallels between the brewery and your indy band analogy. And any brewery that purports to being 'craft' in America is making that claim, either explicitly or implicitly.

    I'll be interested to see how clearly the ownership of Blue Point Brewery is now marketed. It is not clear from the Goose Island website for example that they are no longer independent. If they aren't willing to clearly admit to ownership by ABIB in their marking, then I think that's slightly misleading to the consumer.

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