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!
As expected, craft beer geeks expressed their collective outrage on 10 Barrel’s Facebook page. While 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).
- I will continue to drink 10 Barrel’s beer even though they are now officially a “crafty” brewer. To read about my thoughts on the craft /crafty beer nonsense, click here. I’m still a 10 Barrel customer as long as the quality of their beer does not decline.
- 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?