March was depressing enough in the craft beer world, let alone the real one. Bell’s slammed a homebrew shop with a cease and desist, one microbrewery told another to rename its bestseller, Flying Dog Brewery sued Michigan, and a new piece of beer legislation moved forward in the Colorado legislature that is gaining ire from The Brewers Association (as well as Great Divide, Left Hand, Bristol, and Oskar Blues, among others).
That’s enough drama and crap for one month, let alone half a year. But somewhere in the middle of all that, “Big Beer” shoved its collective noses under the Craft Beer tent again, and twice.
The Beer and Whiskey Brothers have it on pretty good authority to report that Discovery Channel’sBrew Masters is dead. That authority? A confirmation from Sam Calagione himself that no new footage will be taped, and the airing of the 6th and final episode is not even 100% confirmed. That, plus Anthony Bourdain’s Twitter feed which, journalism-wise, might be as (un)reliable as Wikipedia. But the truly telling bit of Bourdain’s tweets regards “Big Beer’s” ultimatum to Discovery Channel: ditch the show or kiss our ad money goodbye. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that this demand was made. In fact, I’m surprised the show made it on the air at all, considering the monetary sway “Big Beer” has on most broadcasters. But this sends an uncomfortable precedent for the future of beer shows on TV.
And yeah, Brew Masters had its issues. Did it have hope for a second or third season anyhow? Maybe not. Did it have good reviews from non-beer drinkers or mass-market-beer drinkers? Not really. But you have to admit, it was a real shot in the arm for Craft Beer as a whole, particularly for Dogfish Head. My in-laws, who maybe buy 7 six-packs a year, got DFH Indian Brown Ale and Raison D Etre for Thanksgiving because they liked Sam Calagione’s silly antics. One of my coworkers bought some 60 Minute IPA because they heard of the show—they hadn’t even seen an episode. I doubt they were the only examples. Knowing that “Big Beer” was a part in destroying that kind of Craft Beer marketing upsets my stomach and, true or not, primed me to be even more upset about the next bit of news I read.
That next bit of news? Goose Island being purchased by AB-InBev. Yeah. This isn’t just a distribution agreement. Goose Island is straight-up owned by AB-InBev now. Of course, as a beer geek (and occasional snob), it’s easy to be critical of Goose Island right now. Chicago is a tough market with its own distribution red tape mumbo-jumbo that may not apply to your particular city/state. Goose Island has been having its share of difficulties being distributed in its own region, let alone meeting demand across the country. But I have to admit my worry and, of course, my bias. I am not okay with knowing that my purchase of Sofie will go towards a Bud Light Lime commercial. And I’m not okay with knowing that a corporate giant, whose sole intention in life is to save and make money and eliminate competition, now has a reputable craft brewery in its portfolio. I would like to remain hopeful about this acquisition, and hope that Goose Island will be left alone to brew what it has always brewed, just with a ton more money and distribution resources to do what it does best.
But there is a pessimistic side of me that believes the corner-cutting nature of “Big Beer” will negatively affect Goose Island’s beers. It might take 5 years, but eventually an AB-InBev accountant will alter the grain bill slightly, or otherwise tamper with the brewing nature of GI. It all comes down to money. AB didn’t purchase a growing craft brewery so much as it purchased a new revenue stream. And once that new revenue stream stops performing what they think it should perform, it will be altered or dropped entirely. And if AB starts making noticeable changes in how Goose Island does things, well…let’s just admit that we craft beer drinkers are sometimes a snobbish bunch.
Frankly, right now it is too early to tell what AB-InBev’s intentions are with GI, whether it will employ a hands-off approach to help promote better beer, or if its cannibalistic corporate nature will force a slow decline in the quality of Bourbon County Stout. Either way, I believe this is the wrong direction for the market to take. Let’s just hope April is a better month for everybody.
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