As discussed by Andrew Morgan
I’m pleased to announce that we’ll have some beer arriving from Wicked Weed next week. Having visited the brewery twice in the last year, I’ve been able to talk with the brewers and sales/marketing teams to see how their new ownership has affected them.
The first thing I noted was the lack of employee exodus when they sold to ABI. Several staff shared their concerns when the news broke given many had worked for several years developing one of America’s most prestigious new breweries. Having seen the way Goose Island had changed with almost all key-staff leaving and the brand taken in a far more commercial direction, there was concern about whether this approach would be applied to Wicked Weed.
However, the founders explained how the agreement they had with ABI was going to allow them to be more demanding on quality and take more risks when it comes to developing their WorldClass sours programme – all with the new security of knowing they were going to have access to the finances to achieve these developments. So far, this has been achieved with their warehouse being more efficient than ever, brewing to meet demand in a way that ensures no clean beer (IPA, Pale Ale) is older than 8 days in their refrigerated warehouse. New HUGE wooden foeders imported from France are fermenting their cider programme and the awesome workshop producing hand-made tap-handles is busier than ever.
Talking to nearby breweries from North Carolina (and further afield) painted another picture with many feeling hurt, angry and disappointed that Wicked Weed had sold themselves to ABI. To fully appreciate why this is so important to many US breweries, you need to understand how beer distribution in America works. Most states legally dictate that breweries need to use a distributor and many contracts between brewery and distributor mean the brewery cannot leave unless under extreme circumstances. This is an ongoing issue causing many breweries to feel it unfair and restrictive. Many of these distributors will be working with ABI or Molson Coors and there may not be a distributor working exclusively with craft breweries in their state. When Wicked Weed joined ABI, it meant that any ABI quotas these distributors had could now include Wicked Weed beer. This gives them a much bigger platform and puts them in a different position than those still considered ‘craft’ by the Brewers Association. Many argue this is unfair, that it means they’ll sell less beer because the ABI-owned Wicked Weed will take up more of the valuable shelf space on retailers’ shelves and they won’t be given the same attention.
It’s hard to argue this position – or the other statement you’ll often hear that ‘ABI would want to close every independent brewery if they could’. When you’re in such a commanding position, many businesses in any industry would look to take market share and reduce competition. Legally, any corporation has a duty to its owners to maximise profits and grow which is a clear goal for ABI. Legally, they’re doing nothing wrong. Morally? Well that’s where it gets less clear for many people. Do ABI have an obligation to help their competitors? The craft beer industry is painted as a bunch of altruistic business owners but Google ‘beer trademark dispute’ and see how tense protecting their ‘craft’ businesses breweries can get.
This is another example of how the business of beer often isn’t ‘fun’. So, where does this leave our decision to work with Wicked Weed?
1) The beer is amazing.
2) The beer is better than ever.
3) We aren’t affected by the US distributor situation but we certainly have empathy for those affected by restrictive legislation.
4) We want to believe that Wicked Weed are correct and they’re going to change the nature of big-beer ruining small breweries through careless acquisition and poor judgement. They really believe it and I believe them.
For anyone who feels that giving your money to ABI is bad then please look at the other decisions when it comes to spending money on sports shoes made in China – or Apple products – or Amazon deliveries – or using a multinational bank (who have almost destroyed our way-of-life on numerous occasions). Consider how your anti-ABI energy could be used to champion human rights, promote ethical animal welfare, stop genocide or even get that park down the road tidied up so your community could benefit. Sure, we’d all love to support owner-operated businesses with small-scale production but that’s not the world we live in. Big business is here and if there’s a chance that Wicked Weed could be the first brewery to subvert from within the belly of the beast then I support that endeavour.
Hopefully, there’s room for textured debate on this subject rather than the love / hate nature of online opinion. We’d love to hear your views as if there’s one thing we pride ourselves on is that we’ll always be open-minded and ready to listen and consider the opinions of those who disagree with ours.