10 Barrel & Anheuser-Busch Wedding Lament

 
Today, the unthinkable happened. 10 Barrel Brewing announced it had eloped with Anheuser-Busch InBev. News of the surprise nuptials left the local craft beer community shell-shocked and in utter disbelief. How could such a thing happen? 10 Barrel Brewing was a shining star in the Oregon craft beer pantheon. The darling of the craft beer industry--the one with the rock star brewers, the copious GABF awards, and a soon-to-be opened brewpub in the Pearl. This was the brewery that prided themselves on their Oregon roots and supporting other locals (or so claimed the t-shirt). The craft brewer that could do no wrong went off and eloped with beer's Big Bad Wolf! Say it ain’t so!
 
image from 10 Barrel's Facebook Page
 
As expected, craft beer geeks expressed their collective outrage on 10 Barrel’s Facebook pageWhile there were a few congratulatory messages (this is a wedding after all), most chastised the owners for selling out, expressed concerns about beer quality, or prophesied the wholesale destruction of the craft beer industry.

 


Needless to say, it wasn’t a happy day in beer land. Since I have a blog, I didn't take to Facebook to share my thoughts. Here's my thinking: 
 
  • AB identified value, swooped in, and made the owners a deal they couldn’t refuse. AB isn’t dumb. I expect they’ll leave the brewers alone so they can focus on making more GABF award-winning beer. Instead, AB will help their new concubine with marketing, logistics, and distribution. Who knows, maybe AB can help 10 Barrel with that pesky exploding bottle problem (skip to the end of the linked post).


  • It will be interesting to see how the change plays out. While rock star brewers like Tonya Cornett and Shawn Kelso are important in craft beer geek land, I expect they are of less significance to casual beer drinkers, and ultimately to AB. Will these brewers stay? I have no clue. We’ll find out. Will the beer always brewed in Bend? I highly doubt it. Why on earth would AB truck beer across the country, when they can brew it at any one of the breweries in their network? AB now owns the brewery and can do whatever they want, regardless of assurances made today by the selling owners.

  • Many beer geeks bid adieu to 10 Barrel today. However, if 10 Barrel continues to produce great beer, I expect many will return to the fold. Similar outrage occurred when AB bought Goose Island back in 2011. Yet, most beer geeks I know (including myself) wouldn’t pass up the chance to drink Goose Island's Bourbon County line of stouts. It’s true that some beer geeks will never return—and that’s OK. This is numbers game. The number of uber-beer geeks that jump ship will be dwarfed by the new customers that will discover 10 Barrel once AB brings it to new markets.

  • Finally, to 10 Barrel’s founders and owners, I offer my sincere congratulations! They took huge personal risks and worked incredibly hard to start, nurture, and grow their business. I support capitalism and fully believe they deserve these hard earned rewards. While others may not agree with their choices, it really doesn’t matter. They earned it! Job well done!  

While I'm not as grief-stricken as most, it's fair to say the news saddens me. Score one for corporate beer. It's almost certain that this trend will continue. So my beer loving comrades, who will be the next to walk down the aisle?

What are your thoughts about AB's acquisition of 10 Barrel Brewing?

 
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6 comments:

  1. Very good Article. I it will be interesting to see this play out.

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  2. Thanks Mike! Fortunately, there are plenty of locally-owned craft beer options for those who choose to no longer give 10 Barrel/AB their business. No one will be hungering for good beer.

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  3. Great perspective Sanjay. I'll admit it caught me off guard. I know a lot of people are angry, but I agree with you. It was a good move by 10 Barrel. Yeah, it sucks, but if you pour your heart into a business and build it up into what 10 Barrel is today, I'm sure they thought through their decision. I'm sure they'll be compensated pretty nicely. I highly doubt their beer will suffer much if any. AB is smart and can spot the upward growth of craft beer. It's in their best interest to let the 10 Barrel guys continue brewing operations and step in and help with the distribution and marketing side. As for me, I'll still be drinking their beer. I love me some Swill.

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  4. Interesting positive spin on in Sanjay. While I agree on most of your positive points I think overall this spells bad news. Here is my take on it: http://newschoolbeer.com/2014/11/anheuser-buschs-purchase-10-barrel-can-ruin-industry.html

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  5. Thanks Logan. Yeah I can't fault the owners for their decisions. It's their business, they can do with it as they please. At the same time, it's interesting the see the emotions that 10 Barrel fans have been expressing during the last two days. I guess that's the flip side of having consumers that are so passionate about your products. I'm sure the owners knew this was coming. BTW, I can't drink Swill. Too darn sweet for me.

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  6. Ezra, thanks for sharing your link. In general, I think there's a good and bad side to everything. On the good side, when AB puts their marketing muscle behind 10 Barrel, I think it will serve as a gateway that introduces more Bud drinkers to the craft beer fold. Those people will explore and discover the non-corporate craft brands.

    On the bad side, I fully agree with most of your points. Big beer will employ anti-competitive practices. In total, I do agree that this deal is bad for craft beer. We know that more of these deals will occur in the future.

    Fortunately, we as consumers vote with our dollars and carry a lot of power. I respect the opinion of those who said goodbye to 10 Barrel. Frankly, with the exception of Apricot Crush, I don't think 10 Barrel makes anything that's truly exceptional. Their beer is great--but so is the beer from a myriad of Oregon breweries. Those who despise big beer have plenty of options, and won't miss a thing by boycotting 10 Barrel's beer.

    Lastly, I don't agree with your characterization of the soulless public corporation. It's true they exist to make a profit for their shareholders. But the same is true for private businesses. Companies that don't meet or exceed the needs of their customer (public or private) go out of business. Maybe we can debate the finer points of this someday over a beer (that's not made by 10 Barrel).

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Thoughts? Tell me what you think.