Anyone following the craft beer world even sort of closely will see a familiar pattern in this latest sale: The fight to keep beer independent is a global phenomenon.
In May 2017, when North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing announced it was being acquired by Anheuser-Busch, joining the brewing giant’s stable of “The High End” brands, the fallout was swift and significant. Plenty of breweries, many of which still considered the people at Wicked Weed friends, cut ties with the company, pulling out of the brewery’s annual Funkitorium Invitational, and forcing Wicked Weed to cancel the event.
This week, Beavertown Brewery – a hip London craft brewery that was founded by none other than Logan Plant, son of Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant – made a somewhat similar announcement, selling a $53 million minority stake to Heineken.
But though the sale happened under slightly different circumstances in an entirely different continent, the resulting fallout appears to be developing along familiar lines. Almost immediately, some independent beer shops announced they will no longer carry the brand, and breweries – including major British brewers Cloudwater and BrewDog, as well as America’s The Veil – have decided to pull out of the annual Beavertown Extravaganza festival slated for September.
The news is still fresh, but it will be interesting to see how many of the approximately three dozen American craft breweries slated to pour at the festival will choose to cancel their appearances.
Since the ‘90s, America has been the driving force behind the craft beer movement. In those early days, the focus tended to be on innovation and quality. But though independent breweries still lead the way in those areas, as larger brewers have infiltrated the craft scene through buyouts, investments, and their own “crafty” beers, much of the discussion has turned to the idea of independence itself. Craft beer trade group the Brewers Association has been pushing its “Certified Independent Craft” seal, and many breweries have seemingly dug in their heels with a more hardline stance when it comes to choosing sides on what it means to truly be a “craft” brand.
Now that craft beer is global, it’s no surprise this new attitude has gone global as well. Craft beer as a whole was forged as a reaction against the global dominance of just a few international beer giants: Yes, the IPA is around stay, but letting the beer market digress back into consolidation could see history repeating itself.
Independence is the backbone of true craft beer, and any brewery that claims to make craft beer, regardless of where it’s located, should respect the importance independence has played in getting us to where the beer world is today. Beavertown’s success stems from its assimilation into the craft beer community; to many, selling a stake in the brand to Heineken violates that tacit contract.