The latest salvo in Beer Wars is a tongue-in-cheek crowdfunding effort (#takecraftback) aimed at buying out Anheuser-Busch InBev to the tune of $213 billion. From a pure marketing strategy standpoint, I see some genius in this campaign.
I must admit, when I first saw this I immediately had flashbacks to the movie Animal House. Remember Blutarsky yelling, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”
Otter responded a bit later, “Bluto’s right. Psychotic… but absolutely right. We gotta take these (guys). Now we could do it with conventional weapons, but that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!”
The #takecraftback stunt is not at all stupid, and perhaps brilliant, but it is futile. And if taken too far, it could be polarizing.
The notion of buying out ABI fits squarely in craft’s brand character from the early years, when attacking “Big Yellow Beer” made a lot of sense. Back then, this kind of maverick attitude, mixed with a generous dose of corporate angst and shaken vigorously with a splash of underdog comeuppance, was perfect. This persona clearly differentiated emerging micro-brewers from corporate beer. It captured the attention of beer drinkers longing for something different.
The beer world was ripe for disruption. Along with truly distinctive beer, being small and anti-corporate were easy ideas to push successfully. And somewhere along the line, we codified tri-standards for craft: Small, Independent and Traditional.
Small is now pretty big. Independence is complicated, and Traditional is even more complicated.
The standards have morphed. The bar for Small in artisanal beer has been raised multiple times as many micro-brewing pioneers expanded well beyond expectations. The tent has been expanded to “craft” as former “micro” and “nano” brewers no longer fit. Who would have thought of a “micro-brewery” selling even a million barrels a year back in the 1980s, let alone over four million?
A full 25% of outside ownership can be anyone. Even at only 25%, is that still fully independent? As I write this, a local favorite Avery has announced its partnership with Mahou San Miguel. It is going to be interesting to see the reaction. How deep will the animosity go, if at all? Personally, I don’t see this becoming another Wicked Weed.
While we may find historical roots for much of the innovation exploding in the upper end of craft beer, would less-than-beer-geeks believe much of this innovation is “Traditional?” And do most want Traditional?
Craft standards are a moving target. Breweries want to grow and innovate. Some of the old guard want an exit. Others need partners with capital. As craft grows, these morphing standards engender varying levels of passion in a craft community that itself is evolving.
I appreciate the #takecraftback effort. It serves craft beer well if we don’t take this “beer war” to the extreme with the general public. To be clear, I think it’s imperative we be unambiguously at war behind the scenes with Big Yellow Beer. We are at war. But how we talk about this struggle in the broader community of craft drinkers will greatly affect our future.
Beer is not about war.
It’s about bringing people together, not dividing us. It’s about enjoyment, not tension. And as righteously cranked up as many craft enthusiasts are about fighting this war, there are a lot of good people out there drinking craft beer who just want good, drama-free beer. Though we see clear distinction, it’s hard for many drinkers to see the bigger “craft” beers as being importantly different from “formerly craft” beers now owned by Big Yellow Beer, or their “crafty” brands generated in-house. If the beer tastes great, all is well with this crowd.
You’re welcome to be indignant with these “less-discerning” craft drinkers. But good luck shaming them into thinking your way. You need a better approach. They are ambivalent to somewhat opposed to this Beer War. They can be turned off if news from the Beer Wars is too negative. This is especially true in today’s world with much bigger wars going on, both literal and cultural.
We drink beer to escape from the world’s troubles, not wallow in them.
Sure, let’s have some fun talking about raising $213 billion to buy out ABI. But let’s remember not everyone sees a war here. More importantly, many don’t want to see one.
Want to really get back at ABI? Bring out credible, approachable, well-crafted, sessionable beers that are better options than Big Yellow Beers for occasions where refreshment is paramount to flavor. This will hurt ABI a lot more than cashing them out.
More about this later.
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