Yesterday, Wicked Weed Brewing agreed to be acquired by AB InBev, the parent company of Budweiser, Stella Artois, et al. and the largest beer company globally by a monstrous margin. Of all the craft brewing buyouts, this has made the most headlines since Ballast Point’s billion dollar deal, but has arguably sent more shockwaves throughout the craft beer community. When Ballast Point sold, the biggest surprise to everyone was the number associated with the deal. They had been expanding so rapidly that the idea of them selling out was not entirely unfathomable. But for Wicked Weed, which I venture a good portion of you have never tried, it feels different.
Wicked Weed became popular in the brewing boomtown of Asheville, NC for doing a lot of styles well, and more recently have been a craft beer darling for their outstanding sour beers. Last year, I sang the praises of Red Angel and Angel of Darkness from my visit to the Firestone Walker Invitational. So when the news broke that they agreed to sell, it felt like losing one of the good guys. Breweries, especially sour breweries, were quick to react. Jester King, The Rare Barrel, and Black Project quickly released statements canceling collaboration beers with Wicked Weed and/or dropping out of Wicked Weed’s own invitational beer festival. Additionally, the two breweries closest to my heart, Beachwood and Modern Times, both reiterated what it means when a conglomerate gobbles up another craft brand: AB InBev is trying to fill all available “craft” beer shelves with breweries in their portfolio by any means necessary. And, as best they can, they want to do this without the consumer noticing. Increased production by Elysian, or Golden Road, or Wicked Weed ends with less independently-owned beer available.
Independent breweries, especially the ones that fight tooth and nail against the nefarious practices the big guys use, are small businesses that support local jobs and economies. When they succeed, the money stays in local communities. When they are acquired, the money (in this case) goes to Belgium, Brazil, St. Louis, and wherever else AB InBev has headquarters. Wicked Weed seemed like one of those small businesses, and yesterday, it let a lot of folks down–drinkers and brewers alike. It’s not illegal to sell your business for a profit–in fact, it’s one of the things many people in this country dream about. However, when that sale violates an ethical boundary many of your peers aren’t willing to cross because it would negatively affect the group as a whole, you have to be willing to live with the decision.
Beer geeks will know about this sale and, hopefully, vote with their wallet to avoid Wicked Weed in the future. Casual craft beer drinkers might not, which is exactly how AB InBev wants it. If you know better, I urge you to inform your friends which company really owns the beer they want to buy next time you’re at a bar or bottle shop. I’ve stopped (as much as I can reasonably help it) buying beer from Golden Road, Ballast Point, 10 Barrel, and Lagunitas. And after today’s second kidney punch news that Heineken is buying the remaining 50% of Lagunitas, that’s not about to change. Stay informed, and stay vigilant!
Note: I previously stated that I intended to continue to drink Ballast Point when I wrote about their acquisition. With more knowledge, this is no longer my position or my practice.