Big Beer Conglomerates Masquerading As Craft Beer
We generally consider craft brews as readily identifiable by the cool artwork on the labels along with the aroma of fresh hops and malts. The fresh taste on our palettes, they clearly standout from the big beer conglomerates’ corn and water flavor right? Or do they? With AB InBev and MillerCoors, along with other big beer businesses, snatching up craft brews like the apocalypse is coming, it can be difficult to tell these days.
According to the guidelines set by The Brewers Association trade group a craft brew is defined as small (less than six million barrels) and independent – with less than 25 percent ownership by a non-craft brewer. The 25 percent line in the sand was drawn to prevent larger brewers from having a significant influence on the craft brew industry. While over the past few years several craft breweries have sold out wholly, there are several who cross the line in partial ownership. A partial list of breweries that you may or may not be aware are no longer considered craft.
Widmer Brothers Brewing
This must be a craft brew, right? Not so fast. Widmer Brothers definitely started off with that plan in mind. In 1984, in their own words, “Grew tired of working for the man” and decided to turn their home brewing hobby into a vocation. In 2012 they formed The Craft Brew Alliance with Redhook and Kona Brewing, which coincidentally AB InBev (“The Man”) owns a 35 percent stake in.
You would think with such a catchy name that screams craft beer, Founders would remain a craft brewery. They are another one since 2014 have been crossed off the list. Founders sold a 30 percent minority stake of their brewery to Mahou-San Miguel, the largest Spanish beer conglomerate.
Magic Hat Brewing
Magic Hat #9 was among the very first craft brews I started drinking on a regular basis. That was back in 1994 when they were founded in Burlington, Vermont. A lot has changed for Magic Hat since then. In 2010 they were wholly acquired by North American Breweries and now are a part of the Florida based beverage conglomerate Florida Ice & Farm Country.
Blue Moon Brewing
Blue Moon was founded in Colorado in 1995 and has actually always been owned by Coors. Coors merged with Molson from Canada to form MolsonCoors, and then with Miller becoming SABMiller. Blue Moon has never been a craft brew, and is sold in Canada under the name of Richard’s White.
Not even the San Diego brewer famous for its line of Sculpin IPAs was immune to the big beer buyout. In 2015 at the height of their growing popularity Ballast Point sold out to Constellation Brands for $1 billion. Constellation may not have the recognition of Budweiser and Miller, but they are a definitely a major player in the beverage industry.
This was probably one of the more eyebrow – raising sellouts of 2015. Elysian was a financially stable independent brewery seemingly able to stand on its own without the backing of AB InBev. They even produced a brew called “Loser” with the tagline of “Corporate Beer Still Sucks.” I don’t know about you, but that sounds a little hypocritical to me.
This is just a small sampling of what is becoming an unsavory trend for craft beer. What does it mean in the big picture and future of the industry? Its hard to say exactly at this point. Some believe that these once amazing breweries will be influenced by the big companies and begin trade the taste of their brews for less expensive ingredients.
I can say from experience MOST so far have remained the same, though there are a couple just on this list that even before I realized they had sold out I noticed a change in the taste, and it wasn’t good. At the very least it allows the big brewers to contaminate the waters in what should remain an unfettered and independent industry, which can’t be good for anybody except the conglomerates, and nobody wants to see that happen.