Peel the Label – Sold Now but Down the Road?

Each time that a craft brewery decides to sell to SABInBev, there is a flurry of social media, blog posts decrying the move and then deeper dives. With the selling of Wicked Weed, there has been some great reading like THIS and THIS.

We now know that the plan is to hide amongst craft and muddy the water of price and quality. And quite possibly cash in a little to raise their slumping sales numbers.

But all of that is near term and as important as the current struggle is, the long term future might be even more interesting to ponder and predict.

Here are some of the questions that percolate for me:
1. What happens when one of the craft brands of the “high end” stumble?
Money has been invested. Not only in purchase price but in expansion of brewing facilities and locations, people and ingredients. If one of brands consistently loses money will they be booted out or left to wither and die?

2. What happens when the original owners/brewers leave?
Whatever claim of staying true to the core beliefs and core beers might well leave with them. And what made that brewery a success no longer has a face. This is a problem that will vex all of craft beer but will bite SABInBev the hardest because they need to hold onto whatever craft cred they can buy.

3. Craft has really local ties, an L.A. brand and a NY brand might not work nationally.
There is a large group of people who make purchases based on locality. And we have seen that the breweries that are trying to grow nationwide have hit some tough patches. I think those items are linked. And again, a problem for craft beer could very well be a problem for even a large company.

These breweries were bought for a specific reason and it wasn’t the beer. Geography probably ranked higher. Which means that no matter the beer or the people, they could be shut down if a new action plan is implemented. Those that sold to the “high end” did not buy long term stability.

Peel the Label is an occasional series where I opine about the big picture of craft beer and blogging without photos, videos or links. (except for the two links this time)

The Bungee Cord Effect

I won’t really be able to top the Full Pint’s takedown of recent “High End” PR campaign. But I would like to add a pair of pennies to it.

America is great at a lot of things. Really shitty at a lot of things too. One thing that we are shitty at is evaluating and then placing people, places or things in their rightful place.

We elevate a brewery or the face of the brewery to a pedestal dismissing along the way the flaws that every person or brewery may have. Once on said pedestal, the process to tear them down begins. Then the negativity lowers the brewery or the face of the brewery way past where it should be. Then the backlash to that backlash happens and we heave back upward again. The way media and the interwebs currently work is basically like a bungee cord or yo-yo. Happens to actors, athletes and politicians too.

But breweries and the people that run them were never probably saints or sinners. They probably were in between in a tighter band of the good to bad spectrum. (See my handy chart below)
So take with multiple grains of salt too many fluffy pieces about the brewmaster or owner of a brewery and be equally wary of the defensive articles that seem to be part of a counter argument. Keep the focus on the beer itself and what the brewery actually does (not what it says it does).

If we all were better at taking the time and care to evaluate we might have seen that the breweries that are now part of the “High End” were all aspiring to be bigger with better being part of the baggage but not the driving motivator.

Devil Went Down in Virginia

Start copying/pasting your anti-takeover post from months back. At this point every beer blogger in America probably has a standard blog post template for SABInBevMiller “acquisitions”.

This time it is Devil’s Backbone Brewing of Virginia that has joined the “High End” making it the eighth company in that division of the multi-national industrial conglomerate. But it is also unique from past sellers in two ways. It bucks the trend of West & Mid-West breweries and DB has been a Great American Beer Festival darling. winning many a medal but also taking brewery of the year in numerous categories as it grew to its current size.

“…national titles for GABF 2014 Mid-Sized Brewing Company and Brew Team of the Year, 2013 Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brew Team of the Year, and 2012 Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year.”

DB has two locations, their Outpost which is the main production hub and their Basecamp & Meadows which is the primary guest destination Their Vienna Lager is the flagship of their Germanic-hued line of beers.
If you are worried about the beer quality, well either this statement will help or not, “While we are joining a creative group of craft breweries in the division, Devils Backbone will retain a high level of autonomy and continue its own authentic DNA within The High End framework,” brewery co-founder Steve Crandall explained in a press release on April 12th.

As I have explained before, don’t automatically write the latest “High End” entrant off completely. Put them on a watch list and see if the beer starts to decline or if the management or brewing team starts to leave. Some breweries have handled the transition well and others have not. Let’s hope that Devil’s Backbone doesn’t GRB it.