Kick-Starting Independence: Understanding BA’s Defense of Craft Beer
If I was a betting man, I’d wager the Brewers Association is not going to be able to crowdfund 213 Billion dollars to purchase AB-Inbev. That said, this is one of the cleverest things they’ve ever done.
In the video, a man in a suit marches through a brewery rallying his fellow craft brewers and lovers to buy out InBev before they can buy more craft breweries. He lists off grievances against the “king of beers” to fife and drum marching rhythms in a way that had me waiting for George Washington to fall in behind. It’s revolutionary in the way that craft beer has always liked to paint itself as a revolution against Macro brands, and I agree with the Brewers Association that another coup is necessary.
#TakeCraftBack is about making a defining statement on what is and isn’t craft. It’s been the Brewers Associations’ biggest struggle. As more brands are bought out by Big Beer, cooler space and draft placements shrink for Independent Craft brewers. When you walk into a grocery store, chances are you’ll find Blue Moon sitting snugly next to Sierra Nevada. On the bottle list at a restaurant, you’ll see Goose Island listed right next to your favorite local beer. It’s these creeping incursions- the Wicked Weed Tap at a bottle shop or the 10 Barrel Tent at a craft beer festival, that have weakened the idea of what “Craft” means.
Rebranding craft is going to be an uphill battle, but the Brewers Association is onto something. By pivoting towards the idea of “Independent Craft”, they can once again put a bold line into what separates a craft beer from its corporate imposters. Sell-outs can masquerade as craft, but they can’t put a claim on independence. It’s this one thing they can’t touch. Craft is nebulous, but independence is defined. It’s the reason you see brewers for Wicked Weed now seeking unity with the craft brewers they deserted in an effort to stop this defining assault against what little credibility they may have left.
Big Beer has hamstrung the growth of craft brands by buying its way into craft placements, by restricting distribution laws, and restricting access to crucial ingredients in a way that is nearly cartoonishly evil. Perhaps a fake campaign to buy ABI is a little over the top, but I’d argue that’s where we are now. If we are going to continue to define craft as what it is not, then further underlining that Craft is independent is the most important thing.
Where this all falls apart for me is converting this to a mainstream audience. For all of us who are educated about buyouts and beer, there are more people who will tell you that Blue Moon is their favorite craft beer or Goose Island is their favorite craft brewery. Converting and educating those people is the biggest challenge that both we as people concerned for the future of Craft Beer as well as the BA.
Education is impossibly hard work. It took us decades to convince people that beer was more than just fizzy yellow water that should be drunk freezing cold and as quickly as possible. Now it’s up to us to make the argument that it not only matters what you’re drinking, but who makes it. Do you want your money to go to a global mega-corporation, or would you rather it go down the street? Do you want your money being used to lobby congressmen to suppress craft brewery distribution, or would you rather it go to pay people in your community a living wage?
The Brewers Association will never raise the 213 Billion Dollars to buy AB InBev. To put that number in perspective, that’s ten times what the craft beer marker was in 2016. That should also remind us what we’re up against, a global monolith made of money and with no goal other than to make more of it for people who could care less about our hobbies, our careers, or our communities. Independent brewers built this industry, and watching macro brands weasel their way into it through money or semantic arguments about what “craft” means is sickening. The Brewers Association is right. We need to take craft back.