Thursday, October 15, 2015

Bigger Business As Usual

I rarely post on brewery mergers, quite possibly because I don't believe that the corporate structure of a brewing company really has that much of effect on the quality of beer being produced. If it did, every honest craft beer drinker on planet earth would love for their favourite local micro to be purchased by one of the big boys so that they could have access to superior quality control processes and equipment and thus make consistently tasty beer. but Stonch put out a challenge, and so I will attempt to rise to it.

All too often in the craft beer side of the beer scene (strangely some craft beer fans remind me of the Catholics in Dave Allen's wonderful joke about going to heaven, they seem to be convinced they are the only people who drink beer), we forget that the brewing business is exactly that, a business, subject to the same rules of the market as other industries, supply and demand, blah, blah, blah. Just because you are a little business doesn't make you some kind of special case or immune to the realities of every day business life - as such those small breweries making shit craft beer (and there are a fair few of them in my experience) will, and deserve to, go to the wall, where no-one will lament their passing other than 'investors' hoping to cash in on the bubble.

Anyway....this post is not about ABInBev buying some little brewery and igniting a veritable caterwaul of 'sell out', 'I'll never buy your beer again', and other declamations from love-struck and jilted fanboys. It's about ABInBev (random thought, why isn't it InBevAB? InBev bought AB not the other way around) having agreed to purchase SABMiller in order to go from being the world's biggest brewing company to being the world's biggest brewing company by a wider margin.

It may sound strange, but this deal doesn't really bother me, and for many of the same reasons as InBev's purchase of Goose Island, 10 Barrel Brewing or Elysian didn't bother me. It is very unlikely to actually affect the beer as it is being made, though admittedly there is part of me that looks over at Pilsner Urquell and worries that the same people that fucked up Staropramen are likely to own the brewery that started the whole hoppy pale lager craze back in 1842 (side note, screw 'India Pale Lager', and morons that think Bud Lite is in some way a pilsner just because it is pale and bottom fermented). As long as the beer stays the same, and this goes for all the brands likely to be owned by whatever this new behemoth will be called, then I am happy with that, because from an American side of the Atlantic perspective the control of the factories producing the beer is frankly a secondary matter.

With the daftness that is the three tier system, whereby brewers need to sell to distributors in order to have their beer in the pubs and shops of a state, the power is with neither the producer or the retailer, but with the blood sucking middlemen, and it is those purchases by ABInBev that bother me the most. Rather than opposing huge brewing companies, the craft beer world, if it truly wants to revolutionise the industry in the US, needs to focus on destroying the three tier system and introducing a genuine free market in the beer world, whereby the middle man is cut out and maybe even, and I realise I am likely being idealistic here, prices can go down because the additional cost of the mddleman is cut out.

Big brewing companies are a very useful straw man/marketing device for the chattering classes to rail against, much like the faceless bureaucracies of the civil service, and ABInBev getting even bigger really changes nothing on that front. So my response to this news is to shrug my shoulders and carry on drinking beer primarily from my local breweries, preferably at their tap rooms so all my money goes directly into their pockets. That is the power the consumer has, deciding where his or her money goes, and someone will always exist to be the supply to meet the demand for beer from small breweries, it's called business and it will keep on going.

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