Recent brewery buyouts – domestic and global – have left me confused and fearful. As a small-town boy with nothing other than the dream of a gut full of piss to warm those cold, cold nights, what am I to make of craft breweries being bought out of multinational conglomerates? What are we – the white and the upwardly mobile, the bald and the overweight consumers to think and do? Do we dare ask ourselves – is it just about the beer or is it about something else?
The wave of buyouts is on the horizon. The success story of craft beer is one we all know and love and have squirreled away in a very special compartment of our heart. But, sooner or later the lure of an untapped beer market to a bunch of pudding-faced, fat-tie wearing guys with suitcases full of cash would be too much.
We’ve heard and read about the ones that have already happened. In the US, Goose Island, Elysian and Lagunitas – pioneers of their craft – have sold large stakes of their companies to large multi-national beverage behemoths. In Australia recently, Japanese brewer Asahi has bought the truly wondrous and most splendid Mountain Goat. Buyouts are not necessarily evil, are quite understandable, and are about as natural to the business world as Tarocash and reasonably priced escorts.
For those who love having good beer available to them and nothing else, when the big boys start flexing their nuts, it’s time to crack open a tinny and smile. Purchasing and distribution power will ultimately push craft beer into more venues. Never again when you’ve been forcibly sat down to a god-awful steak at some pokie-infested sports club for your uncle’s 60th and you have to accordingly drink yourself to the actual point of death, will you have to do it with some fizzy spritz-of-a-beer.
Valid point. I’ve spurted off in the past plenty of times about how all I want is to be able to buy a good beer wherever I sit myself down. With the buyouts pushing established craft beers into more nooks and crannies than ever, I’ll certainly get that.
But is that what I really want?
The double-edged dick of this situation is that great accessibility of established craft beers will almost certainly come at the cost, over time, of choice. There’s something inherently beautiful about a craft beer scene (or any market for that matter) where no one’s big enough to singularly get their drinks everywhere but at the same time no one’s big enough to shit on anyone else. Competition makes for interesting beers. In the long run though, mergers and buyouts lead to monopolies (and oligopolies) and monopolies (and oligopolies) kill competition and price.
In a perfect world I’d like my mortgage repaid, the mandatory public egging of Ray Hadley’s home AND family at least once a year, and all my favourite beers to be everywhere, all the time. But sadly, I know this cannot happen.
I’m not saying buyouts are evil, depending on where you stand they can be a reward for years of hard work or the lure of one day drinking something decent at, god-forbid, the cricket. But then in turn, beers can and do mean things to people, outside of being a delicious way to forget your problems.