With news from the US of yet another takeover of a much-loved local craft brewer by a multinational, how long can it be before we see the same thing happen in the UK?
On Saturday, walking up a hill in the middle of nowhere with barely any mobile reception, we attempted to continue a conversation on Twitter on this subject — a mistake, with hindsight. This post is an attempt to set out our thoughts a bit more clearly, though they’re still just ponderings.
Britain’s ‘craft revolution’ (if you accept that we had one) began either in around 2005 (Thornbridge, BrewDog), or in the early 1970s with the emergence of CAMRA and microbreweries (Selby, Litchborough, Godson, &c.), depending on how you look at it.
But if the aim of companies such as AB-InBev is to buy themselves cool — which is what we think they’re attempting to do with Elysian, though it’s hard to judge hipness from afar — then stolid Butcombe, for example, founded in 1979 but feeling a hundred years old, surely isn’t what they’re after.
For the same reason, our gut instinct is that the takeover of Sharp’s by Molson-Coors in 2011 was not quite the same thing — that, we think, was about acquiring a single big-selling, old-fashioned brand (Doom Bar) rather than an attempt to gain credibility. But maybe we’re wrong.
We also think they’re only likely to be interested in brands which are well-recognised across the UK, or at least across an entire region — we reckon Britain is too small for the kind of city-by-city approach being taken in the US.
BrewDog is an obvious plum, and that’s a company whose management have already convinced themselves that there’s no conflict between anti-corporate rhetoric and an ongoing partnership with Tesco.
Industry watcher Melissa Cole has suggested Meantime might go to SAB-Miller at some point and that wouldn’t be a bad bet. Though its hardly a firm at the cutting edge of cool any more (which, to reiterate, has little to do with the quality of the beer) it’s well-established, operating on a decent scale, and, thanks to a decade of presence in supermarkets, is reasonably well-known.
Then there’s Innis & Gunn. Though few beer geeks seem keen, it persists in maintaining its foothold in the craft beer market — someone, somewhere might think they’re hip.
Most other breweries we can think of with slick branding and accessible flagship brands that aren’t brown bitters — Camden, Thornbridge, Williams Bros — seem less likely, but for some reason, we keep thinking of Purity. An outside chance, maybe, but perhaps worth a flutter.
One final thought: perhaps before the multinationals get involved, we might first see Greene King or Wells & Young invest in (or swallow up) a couple of smaller ‘craft’ brands, once they’ve grown weary of trying to create their own plastic equivalents?
The title of this post, in case you didn’t get it, is a reference to the almost un-watchable Sex Pistols film The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle — really a statement by Malcolm McLaren on the idea of ‘selling out’.