The news that Norwegian macro brewer Hansa bought a majority stake in Nøgne-Ø has naturally created a lot of buzz in the beerosphere (beerosphere, why not?), very similar to what happened a few years go with Goose Island, among others.
What I found fascinating, though hardly surprising, was the reaction of not few people. Judging by some of the comments, it seems they feel betrayed because some sort of imaginary promise has been broken. Some people have gone as far as to accuse the owners of Nøgne-Ø of “selling out”; like teenagers or hipsters lamenting that the obscure indie band they love so much has decided to allow Nike to use one of their songs in a commercial, only that it's worse. You can philosophically accuse an artist of “selling out”, as art is not supposed to be about money, but a brewery? A brewery starts as a business, it was about money from the beginning!
People like differentiating between shareholders and the owners of microbreweries, saying that for the former money comes first, while for the latter what comes first is beer. I believe they are wrong, money comes first in both cases. Yes, the owners of a microbrewery will have a closer relationship with the product their company makes and sells than the CEO of SAB-Miller or an accountant in Diageo, but at the end of the day, it's always about the money; the differences are in the strategies, policies, expectations and scales. If the most important thing was the love of beer, as many seem to believe, then they would remain home brewers or at most semi-commercial nano brewers selling basically directly to the end consumer as a source of extra income or to further finance their hobby.
That's not the case of Nøgne-Ø and countless others. It was profit that drove them to sell their beers through the state owned bottle shop monopoly in Norway; it was profit that drove them to sign international distribution deals to make their beers available in who knows how many countries already. They willingly compromised on quality in order to make more money. Between the brewery and the end consumer there can be three degrees of separation; there's no way on earth that the owners, or anyone in the company, can be certain about the conditions in which their product will be at the end the chain. They can only hope for the best, hope that the distributors, retailers and pub owners will take proper care of their beers, but even enthusiasts with the best intentions can fuck up royally sometimes; passion doesn't make up for a lack skills and knowledge.
To be fair, though, I can understand that some people, especially those who make a point of supporting independent companies, feel this as a loss; I don't think I would be too happy myself if Heineken or Staropramen bought Únětický Pivovar. I would likely take my money elsewhere, as there are plenty of really good independent breweries to choose from, but I wouldn't hold it against the owners, in fact, provided they kept the quality, I'd still buy the beer every now and again.
But let's look at this from a different angle. Let's say that you learn that this was the plan of Nøgne-Ø's owners all along: to set up a brewery, make it successful and build a strong brand relatively quickly, only to sell it to someone bigger after a few years (this is purely hypothetical, and, as far as I'm concerned, it's not an accusation), would your opinion on the beers change in any way? Would that make them suddenly worse? It shouldn't. Would you feel you'd been lied to? There, that'll teach you to blindly trust the words of anyone who wants your money.
Little update (forgot to add this): Congratulations to the owners of Nøgne-Ø, really. Good for them. And I wish them success with their new partners.
PS: The timing of this news couldn't have been more appropriate, just when some people on the other side of the counter are, again, trying to define “Craft Beer” as something tangible for the consumer: beer that can only be made by an independent brewery. I wonder what BrewDog has to say on the matter.