QUICK ONE: The Problem is Hypocrisy

Illustration: a pint of beer in chalk on a blackboard.

Selling your brewery for fabulous amounts of money to a big multinational isn’t a problem — it’s doing so when you’ve made capital from being opposed to just that kind of thing.

If you had made a point of saying along the way, ‘We would never rule out selling to someone like AB-InBev — we have no beef with Big Beer,’ then it’s unlikely anyone would get annoyed when you did so.

So why didn’t you do that?

It must have been at least partly because you believed you’d gain less publicity and adulation, and sell less beer.

You might have been right to think that, but we suspect not: the other way, you’d gain marks for honesty, and pick up the kind of fans for whom beer isn’t so pungent with politics.

Either way, if you insist independence is important when it benefits you but then decide people who care about it are silly and immature when your situation changes, expect them to be annoyed.

22 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: The Problem is Hypocrisy”

  1. *cough*

    “The brewery started because we couldn’t find a lager we loved in London. Drinkers are getting smarter and they can tell the difference between a beer made by a multi-national brewery and a smaller one. With lager we wanted to brew a high-quality beer, inspired by ones we’ve drunk in Germany, and show that lager isn’t a tasteless, fizzy beer.”

  2. Fair point, Richard, but surely it’s more about those who claim that they never would do such a thing, and are opposed to everything the big boys stand for, before selling out – there are plenty of craft brewers who don’t say anything on the subject, so can’t be called out as hypocrites.

    I do find it rather disappointing that an organisation like InBev, with all their brewing talent (yes, they have some!), capacity and marketing ability aren’t able to develop their own craft brewery (in beer rather than brewery terms), but have to rely on acquisitions. If they can’t develop one within their culture, what chance do they have of maintaining one that they take over?

    1. Nick – in the US there’s Shocktop, which is now the “accessible craft” brand within InBev’s High End group.

        1. I didn’t say it was any good, merely pointed out that they *had* developed their own craft brand. And it does seem to go down OK with particular demographics – the usual ones who want to be a bit different, but not too different, and so on.

  3. Anyone who has ever owned and run a business will know you’ll say and do anything to make that business grow and provide security for yourself and your staff.
    If you can sell it to somebody and make a good profit that’s an added bonus.
    Good luck to ’em.
    It’s beer for goodness sake not a crusade to be bezzies with a craft brewer.
    Do people really drink beer because they think the brewery is making a fine stand against the big boys or do they drink beer because they like the taste of it ?

    1. Actually I’d say a big part of the schtick of the “craft beer movement” has always been that they are “sticking it to The Man” – it hasn’t purely been about the taste of the beer.

      Likewise CAMRA has always looked favourably on new brewery startups even if their actual beer left much to be desired.

      But any brewery that breaks the bounds of cottage industry scale will eventually either end up being acquired by one of the big boys, or become somewhat “corporate” itself – it’s a simple fact of life.

      1. “Actually I’d say a big part of the schtick of the “craft beer movement” has always been that they are “sticking it to The Man””

        As far as the UK scene goes, I think this is largely a myth. Brewdog obviously bang on about it to the n-th degree, but otherwise you’re more likely to hear people waffling about quality, innovation, diversity than railing against “industrial beer” or “multinationals” or whatever.

        The US is obviously different, which is probably why the reaction to breweries there selling out tends to be a bit more extreme.

        1. It was certainly the case with the earlier German craft brewers – a big part of why so much of their beer was cloudy/hazy was because it’s a handy signifier that it’s not bright industrial beer, not the gleaming yellow indentikit stuff advertised on TV.

          Of course it didn’t take very long for the industrials to catch up, with their Naturtrübs and Kellerbiers and what-not.

      2. “Craft beer movement” is an uneasy grouping of people who are interested in beer for a variety of reasons.

        Whilst I would argue that by far the majority of people are simply interested in having better access to a greater variety and quality of beer, there are the “hipster” minority for whom craft beer is an anti-corporate activist movement – however they often shout loudest, giving the impression that they make up a bigger proportion than they actually do.

    2. Do people really drink beer because they think the brewery is making a fine stand against the big boys or do they drink beer because they like the taste of it ?

      I think we can probably say that “hipsters” do the former, whereas everyone else does the latter.

  4. But… why do we need to rely on the intermediary of big beer? Isn’t the core hypocrisy the pledges to be small, humane and passion driven who then become large, corporate and markup driven whether they sell or not? From the beer buyer and brewery workers point of view, does the boogie man actually look like ABInBev or the cream taking, jet setting, widely exporting owner who insists on skipping the health and safety because… craft?

  5. “Anyone who has ever owned and run a business will know you’ll say and do anything to make that business grow and provide security for yourself and your staff.”

    Really? Starting a business turns everyone into sociopaths? Good argument against capitalism. Alhough, I’d suggest, not true. It is possible to run a business, even a successful one, without being a complete barsteward.

    (Could we call this egregious craft sell-out behaviour “hopocrisy”? And as The Disposable Heroes Of Hip-Hop put it, “Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury”.)

    1. Security for yourself and your staff is the definition of sociopathy? Wow.

      1. ” Sociopaths are usually defined as people who display antisocial behavior which is mainly characterised by lack of empathy towards others, coupled with displays of abnormal moral conduct and an inability to conform with the norms of society. ”

        And here’s me thinking they were just craft brewers trying to make a few bob.
        Sociopathy is certainly not a word I’d use to describe people who gamble often large amounts of their own money setting up a business from scratch,work horrendously long hours,worry constantly about paying staff and creditors etc etc.
        They might start out with the intention of not marketing themselves like a multi-national but you try telling your bank manager or the person appearing at your door with a large cheque that,no thanks if it’s alright with you, I prefer to be broke but true to my moral compass.
        As I say,come back to me when you’ve actually done the business from the other side of the bar.

  6. I have a fairly good idea of several names that fit the profile of large concerns that have built their businesses with the intention of eventual takeover. Thats the sad thing about the UK, such a large churn of family firms that sell out to multinationals, doesn’t happen on such a large scale in Germany where the word privatbraurei is a term of pride.
    Carlsberg is the latest to announce intention to get into the ‘craftbeer’ market, well for me, that’s a sign that the market is peaked.
    It’s quite perverse really, they see commercial opportunity now, but didn’t see it when they were destroying fantastic beers some years ago.
    Carlsberg has effectively destroyed Tetley, and Coors bought Doom Bar after their predecessors killed off Bass and Worthington.

  7. We just watched another excellent brewer, Wicked Weed, here in the states get swept up by AB-InBev and it’s sparked another outpouring of resentment among craft beer fans across the country. There have been the requisite beer snob “revolts” where people show up at the brewery, buy beer and then dump it out (truly idiotic) as well as more reasoned discussions of what it all means. The bottom line to me is that this is a conscious effort by AB-InBev and their ilk to reclaim market share, pushing craft beer down and pulling their carbonated swill up. Every craft brewer is obviously free to do whatever they want for whatever reason they want (hypocritically or otherwise) but their actions will have repercussions. The Big “Beer” monopoly will pool resources for themselves (and their acquisitions), choke distribution and do everything they can to force craft brewers to slash prices and reduce the quality of their beer while doing nothing to improve their own. Then all beer will be the same again. A nightmare to consider.

    1. Surely if the craft movement shows anything, it shows the same as CAMRA – that quality does sell, at least to a sizeable part of the market. You only have to look at Belgium to see that Big Beer buying up “craft” suppliers does not ultimately lead to a lack of choice; if anything, the opposite. Yes, it’s sad when a much-loved beer gets dumbed down, but not quite the end of the world.

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