Monday, 21 September 2015

You're Moving Out Today

"Pay no attention to the industry behind this graphic"

A question : Why are so-called Craft breweries taken over so easily by major concerns?

Whether it's Goose Island, Boulevard, Meantime or Lagunitas, Crafties both in the UK and USA are "selling-out" (as I believe these events are referred to by the Hipper end of the beer communication movement). But why are these types of beer makers (let's call them Keg Hopfuck brewers) so sought after and easily acquired, as opposed to the mid-range mainly cask brewers (Thornbridge, DarkStar etc.)

One reason is because such things are fashionable. Big beer, though it outsells the Craft even in the biggest markets by a ratio of 4:1, has been declining in both absolute and real terms in these markets for a decade. So what do SABMiller and AB-InBev do to maintain market share? Buy up smaller breweries, of course. All those 0.1%s add up to something eventually.

But the main reason is that Craft Brewers have far more in common with Macrobreweries than the clich├ęd "boring brown bitter" concerns.

Take your average rapidly expanding Keg Hopfuck brewery. In the main, they'll have been started by a well educated and connected person or group. They'll often bullshit their potential buyers by saying "we started brewing for ourselves and it just got big on us man".  But their assault on the market will have been invariably carefully planned. Publicity. Social media. Blogger outreach. The lot.

While they will claim to have started up to make excellent beer and get it to pubs to improve choice, it's actually all about making money. Ironically, it only works if the beer itself is some good, otherwise the plan would be seen through early on (as we're seeing now from chancers like Brewhive etc.).

So, when this Keg Hopfuck brewery gets to a certain size, the macros will come calling. Negotiations will be entered into, and they will go well. Because the Entrepreneurial Crafties and Macro Executives talk the same language. No matter what promises the Keg Hopfuck brewery has made to their fanbase about not " selling out", they will.

The whole signifiers of Craft Brewing, the tattoos, the plaid shirts, the beards, even the "punk" attitudes if you will, are simply marketing devices to appeal to a certain segment of the consumer base. It's no more or less cynical than the creation of your average Boy Band. If they ever meant anything authentic, they don't now

I like "Craft beer", and much prefer it to Boring Brown Bitter, but for me it's the taste I prefer. I don't buy into the Craft Lifestyle thing. I've been around too long to believe in such things. It pains me to say this, but if the Crafty Hipster Brigade were concerned about authentic Artisan produce, they would drink microbrewery cask bitter rather than the products of, say, Beavertown.

Enjoy your beer, guys. Just don't expect it to match your long term expectations.


8 comments:

  1. Nail hit firmly on head there. Craft beer as now understood has very little to do with the original ethos of CAMRA. See this blogpost.

    "Craft beer was young, trendy and urban; real ale was middle-aged, fuddy-duddy and rustic. Craft beer was brewed under railway arches, real ale was brewed in farm outhouses."

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  2. The craft versus cask so-called debate is an utterly pointless waste of time and energy. It only has value of you believe in the hype of some of the craft brewers and in the stereotyping that each side has applied to the other. For most drinkers, it isn't an issue, because most people don't much care what others choose to drink, which is how it should be.

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  3. Not sure about your basic premise here to be honest. For the most part it's been the big US craft brewers that've sold up, largely after they've been hammering away at it for twenty years or so. In the UK you've basically got Meantime and some hipster Bermondsey railway arch operation called, er, Sharps. Meanwhile stalwart traddies like Greene King and Marstons are keeping it strictly for the underground as PLCs, so they're probably mostly owned by hedge funds. But that's better than SAB Miller, right?

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  4. Also, Alistair Hook hardly brought the sleeve tattoos and hardcore punk attitude. Or the hopfuck, come to that.

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  5. It is usually the exceptions that prove the rule. You need to look at the trend.

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  6. Alastair Hook did make a point of saying he wasn't following the CAMRA template.

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  7. What trend?

    In the US, there seem to be a lot of buyouts of firms that have been around for about 20 years - the first ones that I could think of, five (Lagunitas, Founders, Elysian, Firestone Wlaker, Oskar Blues) were founded between 93 and 98. Goose Island go back to 1988, and only 10 Barrel (2006) were founded in the last ten years. (For comparison, Thornbridge started in 2005, Brewdog in 2007.) So if it's they're playing a cynical hype it up and sell it on game then they've been playing it pretty patiently!

    In the UK, as far as I know, there is almost no craft buyout binge, so it's hard to say that there is a trend. Meantime, sure. They're definitely at the smart-casual end of craft anyway. Brewdog have clearly got no qualms about getting rich. Maybe Camden. But apart from that, who are we even talking about? Do you know something about Moor that I don't? Weird Beard? Kernel? Siren?

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  8. Essentially what we're doing in the UK context is creating a straw man anti-corporate craft brewer (when as far as I can tell, most of them aren't actually ideologically opposed to big business so much as glad that they no longer work in IT) and then slaying it by using some evidence that we've made up to prove that they're all corporate shills really.

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