Big Bee…Er..I Mean Old Dominion Brewing Chimes In

Wednesday I put together an article warning about Big Beer’s influence on craft beer.  In this particular example I used Old Dominion’s Oak Barrel Stout as a beer that may have been influenced by the Big Beer bean counters.  Turns out all that speculation, was just that…speculation.  Yesterday I received a very nicely worded letter from Lauren Bigelow Marketing Coordinator for Fordham/Old Dominion Brewing.  So in the interest of full disclosure and to be fair, I thought I would let you read for yourself what she had to say about my prognostications.

Hi Don!

We really enjoyed your review of Hop Mountain and Oak Barrel Stout and just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write about our beers.

We also wanted to take a moment to clear up some rumors that have been propagating regarding our company.

Firstly, InBev is a minority shareholder in our company.  As a result, they do not control what we brew or how we brew it.  We do not interact with them regarding any of our business. We are merely a diversified offering in their worldwide portfolio.

Secondly, the quality of our beers has not changed since the move from Ashburn.  We are using the same recipes created by the original brewers and Jerry Bailey.  Our Oak Barrel Stout has been fermented on a bed of oak chips since its inception 2003, with the exclusion of batches prepared exclusively for draft in the pub in Ashburn and our tasting room now. Those continue to be fermented in oak barrels.

Thirdly, we have not become a machine of mass production.  In fact, our current barrelage is 23,000 BBL — the amount of beer being produced by Old Dominion prior to the move to Dover was 28,000 BBL.  We are making less beer now because we no longer base our business on contract brewing as Jerry did; we put all our effort into our own product. The only difference in production is that Ashburn used a 25-barrel system and we use a 50-barrel system.

Our beers are better and more consistent now than they have ever been.  We have merely made the difficult decision to pull out of some of our markets.  We are a local, 28-employee brewery looking to brew great beer, make some friends, and have fun.

We invite you to stop by the brewery sometime and meet the brewers and employees who are making our dream possible.  We have a couple of special in-house projects on draft, as well as a very limited 18-month bourbon barrel aged stout we think you might enjoy.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask me.  I can be reached via email or phone, xxx-xxx-xxxx, at any time.

L. Bigelow

Fordham and Old Dominion Brewing Company

Marketing Coordinator

I probably didn’t deserve such a nice reply given the tone of my previous post.  I do respect that they wanted to clear up any misconceptions, as do I, hence my posting of this e-mail.  I do however want to say that Big Beer, whether it is InBev, SAB Miller Coors, or any of the others should be on notice.  We, the craft beer drinking and blogging public, are watching.  I know these acquisitions, partnerships, collaborations, whatever you want to call them where the big boy’s money is concerned will continue to happen.  It almost has to, to keep craft beer consumer demands satiated.  But we are always watching and tasting, and we will know when things aren’t right.

Like it or not we have gone from craft beer enthusiasts to industry watchdogs.  I think it is only a matter of time before Big Beer has their fingers in everybody’s pies, so unless you are dedicated to drinking beer made in garages and perhaps your own home brew (although it is probably only a matter of time before Big Beer gets their hooks into those suppliers as well) eventually you too will be drinking a brew or six that have been made possible through Big Beer investment.  We need to be diligent consumers and make sure that if quality suffers we vote with our pocketbooks, because after all history tells us that is the only thing the big boys understand.


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16 Comments on “Big Bee…Er..I Mean Old Dominion Brewing Chimes In”

  1. March 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    Perception plays a big role in how something tastes. Taste tests have to be blind to be meaningful. If you are told beforehand of ingredients or the maker, it colors your experience when you taste. If we think BMC had a hand or made a particular beer then we probably won’t say “wowee”.

    • Don
      March 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

      Well, we will all have to be better tasters because I believe it will only be a matter of time before BMC saturates the market with investment dollars. BTW, I knew nothing of this before I gave my review on Tuesday of both Old Dominion Brews I reviewed, it came to light afterword. So for my honest assessment of them look here.

  2. March 30, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    Hey Don; that’s pretty much as I expected and shows that Big Beer (and consumers) can profit from craft investments if the big guys leave the brewing process alone.

    A major thing that bothers me though is why none of the big guys aren’t trying to brew a limited quantity of quality beers of their own. I’m not talking Blue Moon here but something more along the lines of a lager brewed in Rheinheitsgebot tradition, a real Doppelbock, a Hefeweizen Claro or (dare we think it) a Pilsener comparable to the real Czech Budvar. If they did that and it marketed well, then they could look into producing some quality top-brewed beers. Imagine the Bud Clydesdales hauling a wagon loaded with a Russian Imperial Stout, a Belgian Trippel, a Barrel-aged Vanilla Porter, or a Double IPA–it boggles the mind. Or imagine going to Busch Gardens and being able to drink something like that in their tasting room. Its mind-blowing!

    • Don
      March 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

      That is a good question Wayne, and I think the answer is “they might.” I suspect part of the reason they want to have ownership positions in many of these breweries is they want to re-learn their craft. Lets face it they are really really good at making a consistent product in mass quantities. Not an easy task. However they got so efficient they lost their resolve to innovate. Craft beer stepped in and picked up that banner. So now they need to reconfigure their mind set. And we have seen this in small ways like Blue Moon and Shock Top. Don’t underestimate Blue Moon, at GABF the line of people at that booth was the longest, even when Sam Adams was giving out tastes of Utopias. So I think we will see more and more attempts at real craftiness from the bigs in the future.

    • March 30, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

      They are; take a look a what AC Golden (A wholly owned subsidiary of MillerCoors) is cooking up.

    • April 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm #

      Here’s a link to a recent AC Golden article regarding their barrel agged sours program. That’s right. Coors (sort of) is experimenting with sours.

  3. Carmen
    March 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    Glad you got a reply from them and posted it Don. Always great to see brewers standing up for their craft and engaging with the craft loving community. I’ll also point out that he echoed my comment from the original post. Minority ownership really gives you NO say over how a business is run, unless the majority owner is weak-willed or easily pushed around. Your only recourse as a minority owner is to sell or stay quiet.

    • Don
      March 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      turns out your prognosticator was better than mine. 😉

      • Carmen
        March 30, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

        Well to be fair, I learned the pains of minority ownership in a business the hard way. I know exactly how powerless you are. 🙂

  4. John
    March 30, 2012 at 3:23 pm #

    How can you call it an Oak Barrel stout when it was made on wood chips? I am nearly blind from this deception. If it ain’t in a barrel don’t put it on the bottle. Did you say something about big beer?

    • Don
      March 30, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

      Apparently that decision was made prior to big beer involvement. just a little prestidigitation in the naming. I suppose they could have called it Dog Turd Stout, would you expect they used real dog turd because it was in the name? What about Sculpin IPA? Can you get one with extra Sculpin?

      I agree John it does seem deceptive, but apparently they do barrel age the stuff on tap. So if you want the really good version you have to go to their tasting room.

    • March 30, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      I too had a problem w/ that at first,. But after tasting the beer I decided to forgive them (this time.)

      • March 30, 2012 at 4:19 pm #

        Besides, are we likely to try something called Wood Chip Stout? Ennhh, I dont think so.

  5. Brendan
    March 31, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    I work in Delaware and have done the tour at Fordham. In fact, I’ve been to every brewery in Delaware because, hey, it’s important to have goals in life.

    The tour was good and the brewery was cool. They make a really nice ginger ale and a root beer – wish that they made a diet root beer, too, but hey that’s just me at 42 😦

    This letter clarifies the connection to InBevAB but I still get confused about Fordham/Old Dominion.

  6. Kid Carboy Jr.
    March 31, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    I can’t help but think they’d be better off finding anyone other than Inbev or MillerCoors to be a minority shareholder. The track record for where this path eventually leads to is not a good ones.

  7. April 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    It is good to see that they did take an interest in your blog, even if the review is bad at least they are taking notice of you 🙂

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