The big news in the brewing world this week is the Boston Beer purchase of Dogfish Head Brewing. Billed as a “merger” as the Dogfish crew will join the Boston Beer board and continue to help run Dogfish Head, it still involved Boston Beer paying for DFH in a mix of stock and cash and paying off Dogfish’s private equity investment so they will be wholly owned by Boston Beer. Based on the BA guidelines, the combined entity will continue to be considered “craft” since it’s a craft brewer buying another craft brewer.
I’ve written on the blog before about the BA definitions of “Craft” in my 2017 post “The war goes on..” Since that post, they adjusted the definition again to include “non-beer” products like seltzers and FMBs (flavored malt beverages), which seemed to favor Boston Beer almost exclusively. And for me, that’s where the rub lies.
Compared to most people in the craft community (or at least the vocal minority), I have an “unpopular opinion” when it comes to Sam Adams/Boston Beer. Not about the company themselves, but more about this ridiculous idea of “craft” beer versus the big “industrial” brewers. Where it breaks down for me is the fact that Boston Beer IS a giant multinational conglomerate. They are the 4th largest brewery in the country and in my opinion, literally no different than AB In-Bev or MillerCoors.
Boston Beer is a publicly traded company with a market capitalization of 3 billion dollars and nearly a billion dollars in annual revenue. They have several brands under their umbrella, including Sam Adams, Truly Sparkling Water, Angry Orchard Hard Cider, Twisted Hard Ice Teas, The Traveler Brewing Co and Coney Island Brewing. They are nationally distributed and can afford to advertise during the Super Bowl. There is no other BA defined “craft” brewer who is even remotely close to this level. Now they’ve reached the point of buying craft breweries to pad their portfolio and increase their “street cred”. No different than AB InBev buying Wicked Weed.
Now, I want to be clear, I don’t mean this as a judgement statement. I want to present this as a statement of fact. Simply what Boston Beer IS. To me, it’s neither good nor bad it just simply is. What I want to highlight is a tendency in the beer community to bash on AB InBev for using it’s size to push other products off the shelf, bash them for making “mocktails” like Bud Light ‘Ritas and Mikes Hard Lemonade etc, and especially for bashing them when they buy your favorite local brewery, and yet Boston Beer does all of those exact same things and yet they are the crown jewel in the BA Craft portfolio, the feather in the cap if you will. To me, that’s hypocritical.
The BA has made it clear, doubling down on the logo deal, that the ONLY thing that matters is ownership. Not product line, not innovation, not local interaction, not distribution, not advertising etc.
This is my opinion and I understand it’s not going to make a lot of people happy, but Sam Adams is not craft. A giant company pumping out 5 million barrels of nationwide distributed industrial lager is exactly what those of us in the “craft” are fighting against.
To me, a local 10,000 barrel brewery that pushing the boundaries with 10 or 12 different beer styles, rotating seasonals, experimenting with sours or barrel aging, THAT is craft. Even if it’s a brewery like 10 Barrel or Wicked Weed who is owned by the big boys. If I walk into a bar with limited choices, I would choose a 10 Barrel (ABInBev) or Hop Valley (MillerCoors) beer over Sam Adams. I don’t hate Sam Adams, but I’m not likely going to choose a light amber lager if there are more flavorful options like an IPA or a Stout. Especially, if they are the same price. If the Sam Adams is on special or a lot cheaper, sure that might influence the decision.
To be transparent, I work for a brewery that does not fit the BA definition of craft, because of our ownership situation, but I held this position before I started working here. Does working for a “conglomerate” color my opinion on this? Of course it does and I wouldn’t claim otherwise, but my experience is at a small local brewery (less than 60,000 barrels) who is involved in the community and constantly innovating and to me that fits more into “craft” than ownership.
In the end.. it should just be about the beer, man.