Pernicious Weeds and Business Deals

I guess this is why I kept this domain—to post about once a year. After hearing of another brewery snatched up by ABI, it’s time to dust off the old MacBook and jot down some thoughts.

First, I don’t begrudge a brewery for selling out or making a move to set their investors and founders up for life. You sold your brewery for millions of dollars, good on ya. I’m going to keep teaching at a public high school, freelancing here and there and drinking good beer. You do you.

Second, damn it’s sad to see another interesting and exciting brewery choose cash over independence and, perhaps, integrity. This is the third brewery I profiled for BeerAdvocate Magazine that has sense sold to ABI. First it was Blue Point, then 10 Barrel, now it’s Wicked Weed. I re-read those articles and hoped to find a quote in which they said “we’ll never sell,” just so I could be like “HA! Hypocrites,” but that just wasn’t the case. All three were dedicated to serving their local communities and making quality beer, and I hope they all continue to do so. I chose those breweries (and every brewery I profiled for BeerAdvocate) because there was something unique and promising to the way they approached brewing. I suppose ABI recognized the same promise.

Third, I’m not sure who helped finance this deal, but I know that a beverage industry financial business called First Beverage Group was involved in the 10 Barrel acquisition and I believe Duvel Moortgat’s acquisition of Boulevard (it may have been Firestone-Walker, though). Basically, FBG works as a middleman to get these deals done and make both sides happy (probably an oversimplification. I’d like to be more clear, but can’t. I previously tried reaching out to FBG for another story and was politely declined a comment, so the exact role of FBG is beyond the scope of my understanding of complex business deals).

Whether FBG accommodated this acquisition is moot. If it wasn’t them, it was a similar entity. However, I did have the opportunity to see how groups like FBG operate up close for a brief time in 2015 when I was invited to speak at the company’s Blue Box conference. The company’s CEO, Bill Anderson, liked my book and thought I had interesting things to say on the beer industry, so they invited me out.* It was an eye-opening experience, and I probably didn’t make the best impression.** I spoke on the beauty of remaining small and independent and the fear that conglomeration would swallow the beer industry whole and lead to another reduction in options for the consumer (you can read what I had to say here.)

Mr. Anderson—by all accounts a nice guy and a pleasure to work with—spoke to me beforehand and said, “I’ve got to be honest, I think you’re wrong. The trend is heading the other way.”

I couldn’t disagree. He was right. I just wished that he wasn’t.

I suppose my overall point is this — as long as there are beer drinkers, there will be money in beer. As long as there is money in beer, folks will try to make more of it (beer and money). As long as there are folks trying to make more money, corporate giants like ABI are going to be interested in getting that money for themselves, and groups like FBG are going to be there to help make sure it happens.

Damn, though, I wish that wasn’t the case. In any case, I’ll be at Dodger Stadium tonight and I’ll be drinking one of the few beers available to me there from an independent producer. Three Weavers, I’m coming for ya!

*They spoke with a representative from my publisher, St. Martin’s Press, that told the folks at FBG that my speaking rate was five figures. Apparently they thought that was a reasonable sum to pay a beer writer to speak for 20 minutes. I couldn’t disagree.

**I knew I was in trouble when, I took the stage at 9:30, I opened with the joke, “you can tell this is a business conference and not a writer’s conference. If it were, we’d all still be in bed.” Crickets. Coupled with my nervousness, my naiveté and my general inexperience as a public speaker, it wasn’t exactly the most compelling talk of the conference. It wasn’t a disaster, but let’s just say that the guy who praised the benefits of running wind sprints at 4 a.m. to start each day gave his talk at the end of the conference was much better received.