The lines between craft and macro are disappearing. Craft breweries are selling out, and big breweries are starting to throw their weight around. I am writing this post in response to Devil’s Backbone, one of Virginia’s largest breweries and a very active member in the Virginia Craft Brewer’s Guild, selling to AB-Inbev.
Right now, a lot of people in the industry are too guarded, nice, or afraid to really tell it like it is. This is my opinion, but these are also the facts.
Yes, it matters that Devil’s Backbone sold to AB. “But the same people are still making great beer.” Great, but the same people aren’t in charge of running the business. Here’s what AB-Inbev is planning to do. You can read all about it–offering big incentives to distributors that sell 98% of their brands by volume–but that’s pretty much par for the course for what big businesses do. They use their money to squeeze out smaller competitors. With AB’s plans to triple yearly growth, it pretty much demands that smaller brands get pushed out.
And that’s just public information. Other incentives, pay to play, it’s all being done by bigger companies and distributors in the beer game. And soon, the AB-Inbev SAB-Miller merger is coming.
Also, it’s not just big macrobreweries. Many larger breweries are opening east coast plants, with welcome arms from area beer fans and sweetheart deals from local lawmakers, but similar motives–cut costs, take taps.
AB-Inbev knows that Bud Light is on its way out, and the only way to succeed is to acquire craft brands. Larger breweries with craft roots have huge war chests from the craft beer boom, and will put them to use in the same ways that AB-Inbev does.
You have a choice. I’ll be shelving Vienna Lager from now on.