Can Craft Beer Survive AB InBev?

AB InBev has been buying up well-known craft breweries in the US, including Blue Point in NY State. To say that has caused some controversy among beer lovers is an understatement. Craft brewing has long positioned itself as the opposite of fizzy, mass-produced lagers like Budweiser and beer drinkers have responded. Sales of craft beer have been rising while sales of Budweiser and similar beers have dropped. So when a respected brewery like Goose Island suddenly becomes another AB InBev brand, that gets a lot of people pretty riled up. Especially when AB InBev runs a Super Bowl ad that lampoons “pumpkin peach ale”, which happens to be a brew by Elysian, which they had purchased not long before. It was a cheap shot, and makes AB InBev look tone deaf at best and a bully at worst (and it didn’t seem to reverse the market share dip).

The article doesn’t really answer the question it poses in the title. They’ve got enough money to buy a whole bunch of craft breweries if they want. Brewing takes a lot of work of as founders age, their desire to work the long hours often begins to wane after a decade or two. Or perhaps they want to expand but lack the access to capital to do so. The lure of vast amounts of cash can be hard to resist in such situations. And if AB InBev wants to start brewing some of the acquired beers in their massive plants elsewhere, who’s going to stop them? They probably won’t change the recipe too much, at least at first. But for those brewers who aren’t looking to retire or expand quickly, AB InBev doesn’t represent much of an issue. Or perhaps I should say, much of an issue in the near future. But for the near term, craft beer will survive.

Sidenote: What I didn’t see in the article was much evidence that these breweries ever attempted to find a buyer within the craft beer industry. Perhaps they did. It would likely have been much less lucrative had they done so and still wouldn’t have guaranteed that the beers would remain unchanged. But it would have kept these craft breweries as craft breweries, not small-batch outlets of the biggest beverage company on the planet.

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