We have mortgages, kids who need schooling, and bills to pay. They say money can’t buy you happiness, but it can remove a great deal of stress from your daily life.
After struggling (or even thriving) at the helm of a craft brewery, it’s very tempting to take the money and run. No more worrying about making payroll, supply scarcity, increasing competition, new breweries poaching your employees, and the big one – at some point the Big Beer machine is going to make a push into your crafty little world and some breweries (maybe yours) will be crushed in the gears.
It’s like in the Terminator movies – you know SkyNet will soon become self-aware, and when it does, the robots will change everything. Your survival is anything but certain.
If you’re Elysian Brewing Company, which was bought by Budweiser last week, a briefcase full of cash and an end to all of the worrying about the future is a very tempting thing. All those hopes, all those fears, all those basic needs taken care of with a few signatures. Your brewery will survive, even flourish, in the face of uncertainty. Sure, you’ll be derided by a bunch of beer nerds, but what do they know? They don’t understand the business side of the industry – it’s not their butts on the line. You’ve got families to feed.
Besides, you tell yourself, maybe AB-InBev has seen the future, and has decided that crafting interesting beers that appeal to regular joes and connoisseurs alike is where this whole thing is headed. The craft beer segment is exploding in popularity across demographic groups, and by purchasing craft breweries and embracing craft beer culture, AB-InBev is simply embracing the future of beer.
That’s a nice thought, but nowhere near the truth. If Budweiser’s anti-craft Super Bowl ad told us anything, craft beer isn’t the future at AB-InBev, it’s the enemy.
The Budweiser commercial in question (above) was so cartoonishly anti-craft-beer, it came off like a parody spot on Saturday Night Live. There were bespeckled men with well-coiffed facial hair “fussing” over snifters, snarky references to beers brewed with fruit, and an overall message that the world of beer is being pussified by limp wristed craft beer drinkers, and Budweiser is having none of it.
It was a call to war – choose sides, ‘Murica! Are you a red, white and blue pickup driving working man, or a whimpy little Prius driving craft beer quaffing poser?!!
Perhaps the most confounding part of the ad was that Budweiser almost specifically called out a beer brewed by Elysian (who, remember, they just purchased for millions and millions of dollars). “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale,” the ad boldly proclaims, “We’ll be brewing us some golden suds.” Elysian makes a Pecan Peach Pumpkin Amber called Gourdgia on My Mind. Awkward!
Overall, the commercial makes AB-InBev come off as scared, angry and desperate to do whatever it takes to protect their flagship. It also makes you wonder if they have any real strategy for their portfolio of brands. Judging by this friendly fire incident, the answer is a resounding “no.”
As you might imagine, the ad came as a rude awakening to the folks at Elysian, who clearly just made a deal with the devil.
Elysian co-founder Dick Cantwell (the perfect name for an inept male prostitute, BTW) saw the ad while watching the Super Bowl with some of his brewers. Cantwell was reluctant to accept the AB-InBev offer in the first place, but he was hopeful that having ownership with deep pockets would help to shore up Elysian’s future. That hope quickly flamed into outrage Sunday night.
“I find it kind of incredible that ABI would be so tone-deaf as to pretty directly (even if unwittingly) call out one of the breweries they have recently acquired, even as that brewery is dealing with the anger of the beer community in reaction to the sale,” Cantwell said in an email quoted by The Chicago Tribune. “It doesn’t make our job any easier, and it certainly doesn’t make me feel any better about a deal I didn’t even want to happen. It’s made a difficult situation even more painful.”
Welcome to the AB-InBev family, Dick!
Now you might think that this backstabbing behavior will serve as a warning for other brewers targeted for acquisition by AB-InBev or one of the other brewing goliaths, but I’m not so sure. The resources and stability offered by Big Beer are incredibly tempting, especially if you think that they’ll simply acquire and support your competition if you say no. You could be left there out in the cold as other brewers bask in the humming warmth of the machine. If it’s going to happen anyway, why not be the brewery that benefits?
We’ll see how all of this plays out in the future, but it’s clear that the big boys are fed up with losing market share to craft brewers. The gloves are off and punches are being thrown, even if they’re clumsy haymakers like we saw on Sunday night. However you slice it, a player with the money and influence of AB-InBev can be hugely disruptive in the craft beer marketplace, especially if they are part of it.
2015 is going to be an interesting year.