Culture theft: One more way Big Beer is inching out craft

by DGO Web Administrator

I swear to god, I’m not Nostradamus or something, and I hate to say “I told you so,” but, there’s just no way to get around this column without saying it: I was right about Anheuser-Busch-InBev-MolsoCoorsMiller or whatever their full name is now. They are not buying craft beers for the brands or production capacity, and they are not buying home brew stores for the intel on beer nerds. With the precision of a surgical scalpel, AB-Inbev is buying craft beer as a culture. I’ve been saying this for over a year now (right after Four Peaks sold out), and every time a new purchase happens – most recently, the sale of Karbach and Northern Brewer – it further confirms this in my mind. But something happened a few weeks ago that is beyond-doubt evidence that this is the case.

Pitchfork, a Condé Nast-owned indie music and culture website, launched a new site, October, which will have a strong focus on beer stories. October will be produced by the staff of Good Beer Hunting, a beautiful online beer magazine, and BeerGraphs, a beer data magazine (or blog/beer and brewery ranking system thingy? Honestly it’s a really cool website …). So, we’ll have a super professionally-run beer magazine produced by some of the most creative beer writers, photographers, and journalists in the country and that sounds really, really awesome.

The catch? It’s funded “in partnership with ZX Ventures.” ZX Ventures is the same arm of AB-InBev that bought Northern Brewer, the Minnesota-based chain of home brew shops.

So with this new publishing venture, AB-InBev controls a beer culture magazine. So far, the content is a varied mix, tacitly praising big beer company brands like Rainier Beer and Rolling Rock, hitting mainstream craft brands like New Belgium, Stone, and Sam Adams, and mixing beer and music with a metal and beer pairing list and a playlist from Creston Brewing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. There are also some great deep dives into the niche of craft beer, such as a piece on Michigan’s growing hop production, tequila barrel-aged beers, and a piece that calms fears of a craft beer bubble about to pop. It’s all beautiful, sophisticated, and smooth. They’ve got a great image and voice.

And I honestly love Good Beer Hunting and BeerGraphs. Their content is seriously the best in the industry. I would do a backflip off a brewhouse to write for them. They have – and are deeply invested in – the best writers, excellent design, and a beautiful overall aesthetic. I also don’t question their motives. I really respect all their contributions to craft beer, to beer journalism, and I’ll keep reading GBH.

So, October is promoting craft beer, AB is supporting craft beer as a culture, and what’s the problem? It comes down to your local production brewery (I say production brewery, because I can’t see how there will ever be a day in this country where a brewpub that is producing good beer will be threatened by the likes of AB). Small-production breweries are small businesses that are still fighting for shelf space, tap handles, and now, fighting for ad space on little beer blogs with a massive international corporation. I know, anecdotally, in small towns with lots of independent liquor stores and bars, there will always be a large selection of craft beer. But more and more of the space is going to more and more big beer brands, whether you know it or not, and it’s only going to get worse as more and more of the voices in advertising are promoting those brands.

Robert Alan Wendeborn is a former cellar operator at Ska Brewing and current lead cellar operator at Tin Roof Brewing in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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