Today, it was announced that Anheuser-Busch is buying Wicked Weed Brewing. For those of you who know and love Wicked Weed, this news may have come as a shock. Frankly, it surprised everyone in the industry.
Ignoring most of the hooting and hollering that has been occurring on their social media about the acquisition, I chatted at length with Reid from Beer Street Journal and Tristan from PorchDrinking about the news. The topic that kept coming up was how these acquisitions impact the rest of the craft brewing industry.
As much as you may hear the opposite, AB-InBev is trying to crush craft beer. Wicked Weed is just another step in their plan.
They’re constantly undercutting brewers on all sides of the industry. AB can offer a $90 half barrel of Goose IPA, which puts taproom owners at a cross-roads. Do they stick to the true craft brewers, or do they put on a couple of taps of “crafty” beer to help the bottom line. Now that Wicked Weed is part of The High End, that undercutting will happen on the shelves too.
With breweries like Breckenridge, Elysian, Golden Road and now Wicked Weed joining the dark side, it’s definitely going to be tough sledding for craft brewers and consumers in the years ahead. The previously easy task of discerning craft from macro has become increasingly difficult. We’re going to work up a cheat sheet on the site here that will help craft fans support breweries who are truly craft…look for that soon.
When a brewery sells to Big Beer, there’s always a fallout. Wicked Weed has been dealing with the backlash from their fans on the internet, but responses from other breweries are also expected. Reactions have been consistently against the deal, but many respect the employees and people who make the brewery run. Green Man Brewery, another of Asheville’s great breweries, went with a fairly high-road approach of just including a few hashtags in their most recent instagram post:
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ZERO trees were removed to build this beautiful building. In fact we added trees! ♻🌱🌳"Ask not what your environment can do for you, but what you can do for your environment." – The Green Man #treehuggers #greenmanbrewery #keepavlgreen #spring AND of course as ALWAYS #independent #locallyowned
One thing is for certain, your friends at other breweries might not be able to turn a blind eye. Soon after the announcement was made, Jester King Brewery, who not only collaborates with Wicked Weed, but also sells their beer at their taproom, pulled the plug.
Here’s the full statement from Jeffrey Stuffings, Founder of Jester King Brewery:
This has been a difficult day for us. The news that our great friend Wicked Weed Brewing was acquired by AB In-Bev came as quite a shock. As you might guess, we’ve been getting a lot of e-mails, media inquiries, and online questions about what we think and what it means for Jester King.
It’s no secret that Wicked Weed has been one of our closest friends in the beer industry. Regardless of what has transpired, we’ll always consider the people of Wicked Weed friends, and want the best for them and their families.
With that said, we have some core principles that define who we are as a brewery, and those principles must not be compromised. One of our core principles is that we do not sell beer from AB In-Bev or its affiliates. We’ve chosen this stance, not because of the quality of the beer, but because a portion of the money made off of selling it is used to oppose the interests of craft brewers. In Texas, large brewers (and their distributors) routinely oppose law changes that would help small, independent brewers. We choose not to support these large brewers because of their political stances, and in some cases, their economic practices as well.
Because of this core principle, it pains us to say that we won’t be carrying Wicked Weed anymore at Jester King. We think Wicked Weed beer is some of the best in the world. Their talent, techniques, and patience produces some of the most beautiful beer we’ve ever tasted. That, combined with their great friendship, is what makes this decision so tough for us. But like we said, our core values must be paramount at the end of the day.
We wish Wicked Weed the best, will deeply miss having their beer at Jester King and working with them on collaborations, and expect them to continue to make fantastic beer. Like we mentioned, they’ll always have our friendship and we look forward to the next time we can share a beer together.
Jester King Brewery
Needless to say, the dominoes didn’t stop falling there. Soon after, the North Carolina Brewers Guild put out a statement basically saying that they appreciate everything Wicked Weed has done, but they can’t let them be a voting member because they’re not independent.
While we are disheartened to hear of the sale of Wicked Weed Brewing Co. to Anheuser Busch, we wish our friends at Wicked Weed all the best. They have certainly made a profound impact on the Asheville beer scene and they’ve helped raise the profile of North Carolina as a craft beer state.Since our primary mission is to represent our state’s independent craft brewers, Wicked Weed can no longer be a voting member of the NC Craft Brewers Guild. However we sincerely hope they will continue to work alongside us as an affiliate member of our guild as we strive to make North Carolina a nationwide leader in craft brewing.
So why does a brewery sell out? We kept poring over ideas in our chat, and I won’t bore you with details, but capital is the one thing we kept coming back to. We also couldn’t completely pin down why Wicked Weed sold…
Yes, Wicked Weed was founded by some of the same people who produce ProActiv, but they had just done a fairly major expansion, and it could be that they were overextended. (If you’re from Wicked Weed and want to speak to this, let me know)
The AB + WW deal has been in the works for months now. WW informed another bidder in late Jan. that it would sell to AB, I'm told.
— Chris Furnari (@BrewboundFurn) May 3, 2017
Rumors are out there that they’ve been shopping the brewery for a few months and AB was just the winner, but that contradicts what we have learned about AB’s NDA, which usually doesn’t allow breweries to disclose other suitors in the event of a final sale…so that’s still up in the air. It still begs the question, why sell to the biggest opponent of craft beer? We may never know.
What it does mean for the rest of the industry is that AB has more leverage. Craft consumers have to be much more aware of where their purchases go—a portion of any purchase of AB-owned product goes directly against craft beer. Anheuser Busch doesn’t want you to know who it owns, and will go all out to hide it.
As we hear of more developments, we’ll keep you updated. Big thanks to The Brewtography Project for lending us the photos of Wicked Weed.
What are the chances we’ll see this in the future?