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Mike Pomranz
June 22, 2017

If you thought Anheuser-Busch InBev was going to take a break after ending 2015 with a rash of craft brewery buyouts (and let’s be honest, who really thought that?) you were wrong.

Today, A-B InBev announced they’d be adding Devils Backbone Brewing Company to its “diverse portfolio of craft breweries within The High End, the company’s business unit comprising unique craft and import brands.” It’s a polite way of tossing the well-regarded Virginia brewer into a growing pile of acquired craft beer makers that is now eight brands deep. Goose Island, Blue Point and 10 Barrel were the first three to join the Belgium-based multinational beer conglomerate, with four more – Elysian, Golden Road, Four Peaks and Breckenridge – added in 2015.

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Devils Backbone – who covers a lot of beer ground from their flagship, award-winning, easy-drinking Vienna Lager to their recently-introduced quaffable Cran-Gose and all sorts of other interesting styles in between – is the first craft buyout of A-B InBev for 2016, and if last year was any indication, it probably won’t be the beer giant’s last.

In some ways, the Lexington-based brewery’s willingness to align with Anheuser-Busch and company isn’t a major shocker. Devils Backbone has pursued aggressive growth recently, including a 38 percent increase in production last year and a target of 100,000 barrels this year. In the acquisition press release, they’re proudly billed as “the leading and fastest-growing craft brewery in the state of Virginia,” and anecdotally as someone who covers the industry, it’s no secret the brand has been making a push to get more attention on the national stage.

When it comes to the much-lamented idea of “selling out,” I tend not to whine about the brewers. In the end, these people are running a business. I don’t know their financial situations – if they have kids going to college or are ready to retire to their million dollar dream house – and I don’t really care. It’s worth noting that as has been the case with these buyouts, Devils Backbone CEO Steve Crandall as optimistically said, “Devils Backbone will retain a high level of autonomy and continue its own authentic DNA.... The existing management team plans to stay on board for many years.”

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What’s becoming harder to ignore, however, is what A-B InBev’s motivation might be. When they bought Goose Island and starting bringing that brand’s IPA to the masses, it was a quick and easy way to start selling a quality IPA. But that was seven breweries ago. How many small breweries does A-B InBev need to control and why? If they’re interested in owning quality beers brands, they have plenty. However, if they’re looking to wrangle back control of the US beer market through acquisitions, there are a lot of breweries left to go.

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