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Shades of Grey

Most people aren’t stupid and don’t think in cartoonishly simple ways.

It’s quite human to feel a little sad when a hip independent brewery like Camden Town is taken over by a multi-national, as was announced today.

Furthermore, when a brewery has built its brand on the proposition that people who buy its beer are ‘fans’ and ‘friends’, those drinkers are surely entitled to feel aggrieved when that relationship — something they have valued, for right or wrong — seems to be changing.

It is even reasonable and rational to say, ‘A fundamental quality of the product has changed so I won’t be buying it.’ That needn’t be petulant or mean-spirited — they’ll almost certainly understand why the decision has been made, probably empathise with the owners and shareholders, and wish no-one ill.

They get it, OK?

But, still, its not what they signed up for. (Literally in the case of crowd-funding investors.)

Many other consumers, however, will find their emotions at odds with their pragmatism: yes, it’s another step towards the grimness of monopoly, but, still, won’t it be nice to buy their favourite beer for a few pennies less, in more outlets?

Even the most highly sentimental boycotters might weaken when they’re faced with a can of what has become their ‘ex’ on a train, or in a provincial hotel bar.

This specific case is an interesting one, by the way: everyone kind of knew it was coming and, anyway, it’s not as if Camden ever made a big fuss about being purist about the Great Ideals of Craft Beer.

Main image adapted from ‘Brewery Tour @ Camden Brewery’ Dafydd Vaughan from Flickr, under a Creative Commons Licence.

7 replies on “Shades of Grey”

It is made more interesting because of the crowd funding. But then those investors get back much more than they put in (puts my predictions in their place…) And if my friends started a business and got bought out meaning they were now very wealthy I’m sure I’d be totally chuffed for them.

The main reason to complain is that the quality might drop. I think it is too early to tell on that. It isn’t like the agglomeration of breweries that happened in the 20th century. And they are still definite that they are building a new brewery which shows that at least their immediate intentions are to keep going. It’s what happens if they become a global brand and outgrow this new brewery that will be interesting to see.

I know he’s got to be on message but Mr Cuppaidge’s comments today do grate rather…

And finally, is it just the London breweries that the big boys are circling? You can certainly see Beavertown next. Is it just that ‘London’ is such a good brand globally?

Some call it blathering and bitching but I am with you. In the 5,000 brewery universe, tribal associations with brand and the clan of craft the values we bring to the alcohol choice are ripe and complex. I support the actual small and actually local for no other reason than I can. There are too many choices and equivalents now to not quickly find a replacement.

Someone wants to grab the money, fine, but it tells you what they were looking for all along – the successful exit for the stockholders. We, the consumers, were just the means to that end. Which is fine… but no more admirable than any other form of money grubbing.

wonder how long camden will take to edit their FAQ on web site “Drinkers are getting smarter and they can tell the difference between a beer made by a multi-national brewery and a smaller one” 😉

If friends of mine running a small widget-making business got bought out, I’d be very happy for them; I’d probably make a point of buying widgets from SmallAndFriendly Inc, and telling everyone I knew the creators way back when.

On the other hand, if friends of mine running a protest campaign got bought out I’d be furious; I’d never have anything to do with them again, and would denounce them to everyone I knew.

‘Craft beer’ isn’t a protest campaign, but neither is it a purely commercial make-a-better-widget affair. People at the more ‘idealistic’ end of craft fandom often get slated for having an emotional investment in their favourite brewers, but I don’t think it’s entirely fair. When you look at it, quite a bit of commercial activity sits somewhere on the spectrum between pure commerce and anti-establishment radicalism. What if it was an independent cafe your friends were running, and it was Starbucks who bought them out?

It’s as B&B have said isn’t it. Annoyed (or even upset) that you might be losing something you liked, but happy for your mates to have done well out of it.

There is also the concern for the whole sector, and whether the big companies making inroads will be to the detriment of others. I don’t know how that will play out. It might be that the effect is really on the mainstream pubs/bars and they start getting more ‘craft’ lines (which are now ABI supplied), but the places that really care about beer are relatively unaffected.

Bit odd to describe it as a partnership when it’s an outright takeover? And if you suddenly have £10 million + cash, how interested are you going to be in running the new brewery? Though if I had a business and was offered 9x turnover/ 200x profit (if the Guardian figures are close), I’d certainly consider it.

If you still wanted to be a brewer, £5 million would get you a pretty decent newbuild brewery, a few pubs; and some talented people to run it, whilst you enjoy the ocean view from your tropical beach house. (Although you may have a clause against the brewery bit, I suppose.)

I was always suspicious of ‘craft’ breweries with their emphasis on production of new styles and ‘challenging’ beers as a bit Emperor’s new clothes and an excuse for the promotion of over-priced keg beers. We are now seeing that money talks in this sector just as much as anywhere else.
For high quality bottled and keg beers it is still Belgium for me.

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