Times are certainly changing in the world of Craft Beer.
It has been a week full of major news as two breweries have made headlines, one with a dramatic merger and another with an out-right sale.
Unless you have been living inside of green glass bottle, you probably heard the news that broke first thing this past Tuesday morning, Lagunitas, 3rd largest craft beer brewer in the U.S., has sold a 50% share to global Dutch brewing mega-conglomerate Heineken. The second news story, officially confirmed yesterday, but whispered around San Diego for several months, was the majority sale of Saint Archer Brewing to corporate beer poster boys MillerCoors.
In both cases it is fair to say that these craft beer breweries sold out. It is also fair to say that these two breweries can no longer be considered ‘craft beer breweries’.
Whether or not this news dissuades a person from drinking the beers of Lagunitas or Saint Archer is an entirely subjective matter. Hard-core craft beer geeks will move on while the masses, who for the most part do not care who owns a brewery, will simply drink on in a state of blissful ignorance.
Personally, I’m happy for Lagunitas and Saint Archer. Or more to the point, I’m happy for the employees. Undoubtably this can only be good news for the employees of each business because hopefully they will see some of the millions now being pumped into their breweries. Make no mistake, these are two businesses that employ a lot of wonderful and talented people, the contributions they have made to craft beer cannot and should not be forgotten or overlooked. If they choose to stay onboard when the new ownership takes over, or in the case of Lagunitas; joins the board, then I wish them nothing but the best. If any of them decide to leave and seek opportunity at another craft brewer or perhaps even start their own brewery, that will be even better news and I sincerely hope to try those beers very soon, craft beer will welcome you back with open arms.
In the case of Lagunitas, they made the decision to partner with Heineken in order to become a global brand and put their beers in the hands of more people around the world. As a business, you cannot fault them for that. Tony Magee, founder of Lagunitas, was looking for a way to grow his business on a global scale. This was the way he thought was best to do it.
With Saint Archer, sources have told me multiple times that this was the plan from day one. It was part of the business model that helped lure the financial backing of big time X-Game athletes and others, the promise of owning a brewery for a big pay day down the road. Mission Accomplished. Like many others in San Diego, I have often questioned the intentions of Saint Archer, but now they are all rich and I’m not.
In both cases, it was stressed that nothing would change about the beers and that the people in charge of things were staying in charge. It was a lot of information to try and reassure craft beer drinkers that the product would not change, even if the people collecting all the money did.
Where things get interesting is with the potential ramifications of each move. For Saint Archer it will be a challenge for them to try and still call themselves craft beer in a market like San Diego. The knowledgeable craft beer geeks will stop drinking it and they certainly will not go to the tasting room. How the average beer drinker reacts will be far more interesting, will they even care that MillerCoors owns them? It will also be interesting to see how MillerCoors handles what can only be an impending nationwide rollout of Saint Archer beers. Will you one day walk into a bar in Philadelphia and find Saint Archer White nestled between handles of Blue Moon and ShockTop?
This move is also alarming to other San Diego craft brewers because now they have MillerCoors in their backyard, something that almost everyone had hoped to avoid. Will MillerCoors attempt to interfere with the micro and nano breweries in San Diego with proposing wild new legislation like they have in Florida? Only time will tell.
For Lagunitas, they have a far more precarious situation in front of them. Tony Magee has been very outspoken when it comes to craft brewers selling out to ABInBev and MillerCoors in the past. After announcing the sale, or partnership, with Heineken, Tony found himself in the position of having to defend his actions with very long blog post where he attempts to show how this deal is actually a good thing for the American Craft Beer industry. What this says to me is that Tony still wants to sit at the table with the cool kids despite the fact that the he now belongs in the lounge with all the lame grown-ups.
Don’t get me wrong, if the day comes when I can find a bottle of Lagunitas IPA in bar down the back ally of a random third world country and it tastes just as good as the one made in Petaluma, that is a good thing. But do not act like you didn’t sell out to make that happen, just own it and everything will be cool.
Ultimately, I hope this works out for the people involved at Lagunitas and Heineken. I also hope that MillerCoors doesn’t have a negative effect here in San Diego, because that has to be a top priority now for the brewers of this region, to protect the quality and integrity of what San Diego beer has become known for around the world. Make sure that Saint Archer is an isolated case, and we can mitigate them to a small part of the brewing culture here in this county.
Also, if anyone wants to start a petition for Saint Archer to relocate to Milwaukee, I would be ok with that. Or at the very least they can relocate to Carson with the Chargers.