Anheuser-Busch, the ever-present producers/owners of such beloved American beverage brands as TILT (a weaker, grosser predecessor to 4Loko), Natty Ice, Bud Light Lime and Michelob ULTRA, made news earlier this week when they acquired Goose Island, a Chicago brewer that currently produces about 127,000 barrels of beer per year.
The good news
There’s some interesting commentary on the deal in this article, complete with interviews from Goose Island’s president and their brewmaster. On the surface this seems to be good news for the brewery, who earned a cool $22.5 mill on a deal, money they say they’ll use to expand their existing Chicago operation to meet increased demand. As long as they keep doing their thing (which seems to be producing a steady stream of medium-to-good beers that don’t really wow me), by all means… I’m not the guy that’s gonna shout “sell out”.
This news didn’t bother me until today, when I saw this article about some Tweets that Anthony Bourdain made recently, concerning “Brewmasters”, the Discovery Channel show about the trials and tribulations of Dogfish Head, a Delaware craft brewer.
In other words, he’s accused Anheuser-Busch of threatening to pull their advertising from Discovery’s family of channels if Brewmasters wasn’t cancelled. It’s a shame that Dogfish Head and other craft brewers can’t stage a similar boycott when the channel runs a “How It’s Made” style show about Budweiser. Apparently, Bourdain’s “No Reservations” shares the same production company as Brewmasters, which would certainly provide him some insight and further indicate the story could be legitimate.
I understand that beer is a business, and I consider myself to be a raging capitalist, but the idea that the beer giant would use their advertising clout to undercut a “little guy” is upsetting, even if utterly unsurprising.
The two stories just make me wonder: where is the craft beer industry headed? As beer and brewing continue to become more and more popular, and smaller specialty brands become more appealing to giants like Anheuser-Busch InBev, could there come a time when you simply can’t make it as a small brewery without being absorbed by a big guy?