It’s happened again. An independently owned U.S. craft brewery has been acquired by the global corporate behemoth Anheuser-Busch InBev.
On May 3, Wicked Weed Brewing of Asheville, North Carolina, announced the sale to great uproar from the craft beer community. So now, the corporation that ran an anti-craft beer Super Bowl ad in 2015, claiming its beer is “not brewed to be fussed over” while anthemic drums pulsed in the background like a macro-beer battle cry, owns a brewery with an acclaimed sour beer program.
The irony here need not be belabored. This is just another of AB InBev’s many acquisitions of craft breweries over the past decade that include buyouts of admired brewhouses like Goose Island Brewing of Chicago, Elysian Brewing of Seattle and 10 Barrel Brewing of Bend, Oregon.
But the recent purchase of Asheville’s Wicked Weed Brewing feels a little close to home. In many of the ubiquitous lists of the “Best Beer Cities in America,” Asheville and Portland often stand side by side. When beer tourists visit Portland, I frequently hear the comment that it has a similar vibe to Asheville.
The battle lines are getting uncomfortably close.
Just imagine what it would feel like if, without warning, your favorite Maine brewery announced that it was being purchased by AB InBev. Really take a moment and picture it. I just did, and it felt awful.
Let’s consider exactly why a buyout of a Maine brewery would be bad for our world-class beer scene.
With Maine breweries adding an estimated $228 million to the state’s economy and employing over 1,600 workers, according to a recent survey conducted by the University of Maine School of Economics, it seems logical to assume that AB InBev and other beverage giants are scouting Maine breweries for their next takeover.
According to OpenSecrets.org, AB InBev spent $3.5 million in lobbying in 2016. Much of these lobbying dollars are spent to squelch the growth of small breweries and make it easier for macro-breweries to expand their reach into the marketplace.
In reaction to the Wicked Weed buyout, the Austin, Texas, brewery Jester King announced that it was canceling a collaboration planned with the Asheville brewery. Jester King founder, Jeffrey Stuffings explained on the company’s website that, on principle, it does not sell beer made by an AB InBev company.
“We’ve chosen this stance, not because of the quality of the beer, but because a portion of the money made off of selling it is used to oppose the interests of craft brewers. In Texas, large brewers (and their distributors) routinely oppose law changes that would help small, independent brewers,” Stuffings said.
If AB InBev or another beverage giant comes to Maine, they bring with them the lobbying dollars to start chipping away at the laws that support our small breweries.
AB InBev’s distribution power is another key downside of a Maine brewery buyout. In addition to owning breweries, AB InBev also controls many distribution channels in the three-tier beer system. As a result, the multinational corporation has significant control over draft lines and shelf space. This could result in less authentic craft beer choices for beer lovers and vacationers coming to Maine for beer tourism.
Add to these the countless reasons why buying from a locally owned company is better for any community, and it’s clear that a buyout of a local Maine brewery by a global beverage conglomerate would tear at the fabric of Maine’s thriving beer culture.
I love this beer scene for its authenticity, its distinct character and its individuals who are invested in their local communities. Let’s keep it local and keep Maine’s truly unique beer scene moving forward with its nearly 100 locally owned, united craft breweries.
OTHER BEER HAPPENINGS
Hops for Hope at Rising Tide Brewing
4 to 7 p.m. Friday, 103 Fox St., Portland. hope-jg-org/hops-for-hope
Looking to turn your Friday night craft beer experience into a charitable act? Rising Tide Brewing is hosting Hops for Hope as part of ALS Awareness Month. Money raised at this event will go toward purchasing wheelchair ramps and other equipment for Maine families with ALS. This is a great way to give back while you immerse yourself in Rising Tide’s brilliant selection of craft beer.
Black Fly Brewfest
Noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, 94 Randall Ave., Houlton. $35 General Admission, $55 VIP. eventbrite.com
One of the biggest reasons Maine still has tremendous room for growth in its beer scene is that the love of craft beer is spreading to all corners of our vast state. Saturday’s Black Fly Brewfest in Houlton is a great harbinger of Maine’s growth potential. Patrons of this event will be privy to some of Maine’s best beer. The brewers include, among others, Foundation Brewing, Dirigo Brewing, Marsh Island Brewing, Banded Horn Brewing, Mast Landing Brewing and Barreled Souls Brewing. The brewfest also includes food vendors and live music.
Shipyard hosts American Homebrewers Association Rally
7 to 9 p.m. Saturday, 86 Newbury St., Portland. homebrewersassociation.org/events/shipyard-aha-rally/
If you’re a homebrewer, this one’s for you. Saturday night Shipyard will host a rally for the American Homebrewers Association. The event is free to members of the AHA. Non-members can sign up for an AHA membership at a discounted rate at the door. The event features a tour of Shipyard’s Newbury Street brewery, plenty of beer tastings and the chance to mingle with other homebrewers and Shipyard’s brewing staff. An AHA membership not only gets homebrewers into events like this rally, but it also comes with a subscription to Zymurgy magazine and deals at thousands of participating breweries, pubs and homebrew supply shops, along with access to a vibrant homebrewing community.