Tuesday 1 March 2016

Generic Response to a Brewery Selling Out

Okay, so the latest big corporate beer buyout - Beer Hawk - was a distributor rather than a brewery. But it seems unlikely to be the last, and it's a good opportunity to put together an all purpose "here's what I think post" that I can re-use repeatedly in the future.

i) I'm not angry at the owners for "selling out".

It's their business, they've put the hard work into building it up, and if they want to get filthy rich out of it then that's their prerogative and, all else being equal, I'm happy for them.

If they've made a big thing out of their independence-or-death credentials and (particularly) if they've slagged off other people for "selling out" in the past then I might still think they're dicks, though. Sure, this is how marketing works, but I like to think that the people involved in small breweries are more like normal, decent, averagely honest people and less like the marketing departments of large amoral corporations. I still don't think they shouldn't have sold out, but I do think that they shouldn't have made a big thing of convictions and commitment that they didn't have.

ii) I don't think it's a good thing for their beer in the long run, though.

Once you're part of a big multinational, you're part of a money-making machine, and making as much money as possible is your job. Just right now, they can probably make more money out of you in the long run by staying at arm's length and letting you focus on quality and keep on building up your reputation and all that stuff. In the future, that could change, and they might want to start cashing in a bit on your reputation, and people might start turning up to ask whether you really need to use quite so many expensive hops and those long lagering times and whether you couldn't stop brewing all the weird shit that doesn't make any money and focus a bit more on milking your flagship brands. And when that happens, your "we're still in charge" talk won't mean a thing.

iii) I won't stop buying their beer, but I might choose a beer from a still-independent brewery instead if there's a roughly equivalent alternative available.

This isn't an ideological point, it's a pragmatic one. If I give some money to an independent brewery then they'll spend some of it on beard-care products and new tattoos and, in one way or another, invest the rest back into making the brewery bigger and better. Or at least into keeping it in business. If they're a brewery that I like then this is in my interests. If I give some money to the craft wing of a drinks multinational then for all I know the profit will go to fund the marketing campaign for a new alcopop they're launching in South America. This is not in my interests. All else being more-or-less equal, I'd rather support an independent whose other stuff I generally like than a multinational whose other stuff I generally wouldn't touch with a bargepole.

iv) Finally, can we cut out all the "strategic partnership" crap?

If you want me to believe, despite a globe-spanning megacorp giving you shedloads of money in exchange for the ownership of your brewery, that "nothing's changed" and that you're still honest and authentic and all that stuff, then the first thing you could do is actually announce that it's happened in an honest and authentic way rather than using whatever marketing-approved wording your new corporate masters have given you. Since it's clearly not fooling anyone, it does more to undermine your credibility than to defend it. So why do it?