Dan’s Reaction to Firestone, Lagunitas, Saint Archer & Stone News
It’s been one hell of a summer for craft beer, starting off with the news that Firestone Walker and Duvel merged and ending with Stone Brewing Co. CEO Greg Koch stepping aside as CEO. In this post, I am going to share my feelings on all the wave making announcements from Firestone Walker, Lagunitas Brewing, Saint Archer Brewing and Stone Brewing’s . Before I begin, I’d like to paint the picture landscape of the craft beer culture up until recently.
When I began The Full Pint with Jonny in 2007, the revolution was in full swing. Gone was the term micro brew and in was the term craft beer. Leading the pack was a bottle of Arrogant Bastard. Claiming Yellow Beer is For Wussies and You’re Not Worthy. Even before social media became a thing, there was a tale of David versus Goliath constantly being told. All of it seemed believable and something I could get behind. Even as a young adult, I knew that “the big guys” were pumping out crap and had a strong hold on the shelves. Sports games were decked out in Budweiser and Coors ads and all the while I knew the beer is/was a soulless commodity beverage. Having the makers of the delicious soulful craft beer I was now buying reinforcing my beliefs felt great. Much like the way Whole Foods makes people think they are saving the planet when they buy free range shampoo, not only do I feel like I’m buying a quality product, I feel like I’m part of something special.
As an admitted mark for this community and its camaraderie, this summer’s worth of beer company transactions was the equivalent of finding out that the Easter Bunny isn’t real. In the back of my mind, I kind of knew it was my mom tip toeing in the middle of the night, but still it took some of my innocence and enjoyment away from it. Here are my thoughts on the transactions.
Firestone Walker “Merging” with Duvel
Firestone Walker and Duvel released a joint statement that both companies would be merging, with the purpose of helping Firestone Walker maximize their market potential. No longer would the owners of Firestone Walker have to hit up lending institutes to fund future brew house expansions, and would now have the resources to fill out the lower 48 states with their remarkable unfiltered ales. Despite being needled by the craft beer media, Firestone Walker nor Duvel would disclose details of the transaction nor would they confirm they were owned by Duvel or not. Going back to the press release when Duvel acquired Boulevard, the same exact terms were used to describe the transaction. After the honeymoon period, it’s been communicated that Duvel OWNS Boulevard. Does Duvel really own Firestone? Only time will tell.
Because Firestone Walker has always felt like a California treasure and even a local brewery despite being so far from everyone, there was some initial shock at the news, but no venom or anger by any means. In this particular case, I felt a little upset as a greedy/entitled person who wanted Firestone all to myself. As ridiculous as that sounds, I think of Firestone Walker as something special I get by living here in over priced over crowded California. I know they have been slowly expanding out, I’ve taken pride in making this my local daily drinking beer. While my friends at Firestone Walker have assured me things won’t change, I am scared that Duvel will be bought by a a company that doesn’t give a fuck.
My craft beer journey began with the likes of Stone, Firestone Walker, Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada. Lagunitas made beer so much different from the horrible macro beer I spent chugging in college and even different from the homogenized stuff Samuel Adams was pumping out. Couple that with their fun branding and weed culture and they instantly had a cozy spot in my heart.
I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting or talking to Lagunitas Owner Tony Magee. I have been following his bizarre tweets and rants for a few years, and from what I gathered he is/was anti-establishment and part of the fabric that kept craft beer craft.
But then when I saw Lagunitas products in every gas station, Seven Eleven, grocery store, and for a few bucks less than other similar products it seemed kind of clear they were on a mission to push products. Hey, I have no problem with making good beer accessible. After the Chicago expansion and then the Azusa, CA expansion plan announcement, I thought they were surely gunning to topple the likes of New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and possibly Samuel Adams. Again, nothing wrong with success and nothing wrong with making your quality beer accessible to more people.
What didn’t jive well for me was the IPA scandal earlier this year, in which they tried blocking Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA from hitting the market due to the IPA mark on the Sierra Nevada label. Their approach was puzzling for being ‘craft beer’ as it seemed greedy and huge corporation like. Their street cred took a big hit from that and I’m not sure they ever completely bounced back from that.
When news broke last week that they had sold 50% of their company to Heineken, I was very sad. Even after that stupid IPA label scandal, I still liked Lagunitas. I like their beer, I like their price point, their branding, and the people I’ve been working with over the last 8 years have been nothing but nice and accommodating. Tony Magee went on another infamous rant trying to say God knows what in response to the transaction, and the only thing I took away from this was that he tried painting a picture that Heineken was this down to earth company who makes honest to goodness quality beer and will help him go global. Heineken in fact makes garbage beer. Heineken ships said garbage beer around the globe with no regard to freshness or quality, selling it to people that think a skunky watery lager is delicious. Tell me you want to go global Tony, don’t insult me that Heineken is this down to earth company that nurtures the art of beer making.
I will still pound some Lagunitas IPA at my local Mexican restaurant but you will not see Lagunitas press releases or product reviews on The Full Pint any longer. We have a line here at The Full Pint. We cover the craft beer industry.
Saint Archer Brewing
Saint Archer Brewing hit the scene a little over two years ago. They sent me these eye-rolling emails of professional action sport stars,that had nothing to do with beer. I suppose if I was 14 years old that would have been awesome and I would have known who these people were. As a service to the craft beer industry, we bit our lip and let this new company take advantage of our platform once they sent us a press release about…..you know….beer. Once their products hit the market, their minimalist packaging seemed odd. As a first impression, I was not impressed, but whatever, I have lots of options. Then a year ago, my friends got sales jobs at Saint Archer, and insisted I at least try the beer. The beer wasn’t bad, it wasn’t mediocre, it was extremely good. It was a lesson not to judge a book by its cover if there ever was one. While the San Diego craft beer community was still rolling their eyes at this company, I was enjoying the Pale, IPA and Double IPA offerings and kind of felt cool drinking something so under the radar. It was like my own stash of secret awesome beer.
Last San Diego Beer Week, Jonny and I stopped into the brewery for a minute. We were both floored with how much shiny new equipment was crammed in from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling. Most of these new breweries were lucky if they had 60BBLs worth of capacity. My first and last observation was “these guys are going national.” Well sure enough they did. My phone was pummeled by late July that Saint Archer was in talks with MillerCoors. Saint Archer went on the record with us NOT denying the rumor which pretty much solidified it. Sure enough, news broke last week that it was a done deal. Nobody was surprised, and for most of the country, nobody cared. I cared because I like the beer and the people who work there, the San Diego craft beer community was upset as they feel like there is poison in the middle of their county now.
In this case, I will be drinking Saint Archer beer as long as it stays delicious, but as per The Full Pint policy, they will not be promoted here any longer.
Stone Brewing Co.
Without a doubt, the leader of the “craft beer movement” has been Stone Brewing Co. and Greg Koch. All the emotions, ideals and beliefs we have about this beverage and community can be traced back to the words and marketing of Stone. While Sierra Nevada, Anchor and Boston Beer did a wonderful job paving the way, they more or less blended in with their large corporate counter parts on the tap tower.
Around 2012, Stone set some lofty goals which would expand their business. They aimed at a European brewery, a local hotel and an organic farm. None of those projects indicated they were positioning to take over the world or to sell out. Since then, they have greatly expanded their portfolio of beers, have broken their stance on keeping their beers refrigerated at retailers, but have made freshness and care a focal point in their marketing, educating many people about these delicate, perishable beers. While Stone has definitely gone from an underground darling to a mainstream national company, I don’t see them selling the company to anyone. I am sure there is plenty of private funding going on, there is just no way that Mr. Koch and Mr. Wagner aren’t the majority owners of Stone Brewing Co.
Last week, Stone Brewing Co. announced that Greg Koch will be stepping away from the CEO position and will be looking to fill the role. I wasn’t completely shocked of this news. Greg has done a tremendous job at manning this ship, maintaining the company brand/culture, marketing and growing the company, but he kind of created a very hungry monster. That monster needs feeding. We are not privy to Greg’s schedule, but I do know that he and Mitch Steele (Brewmaster) are bouncing around from Escondido to Richmond to Berlin constantly trying to move forward the Richmond and Berlin breweries. While I’m sure Greg can handle all of that himself, it will probably take a toll on him at some point, so I am glad they are beefing up the C-line.
I don’t see Stone ever selling, and if they do, I may shut this whole thing down. That’s quote.