Want an American Beer? Good Luck

Finding a great American beer is not that hard to do if you are a craft beer lover. However for main-streamers, it is getting much, much harder. I am going to kick-start a firestorm of debate on this but when a foreign company buys the brewery, it is not American anymore. It is a foreign beer, brewed in America (at least for the time being). We all answer to the bean counters. Your local guy sold out and is sitting under a beach umbrella somewhere.

Full Sail Brewing (Hood River, OR) Acquired by Encore Consumer Capital – 3/9/15 – Ends Unique ESOP

With the acquisition of the Bend, OR, craft brew rising star 10 Barrel Brewing  and Seattle, WA stalwart Elysian Brewing by ABInBev there is a lot of joy in the marketplace and a deep sadness from craft beer purists. Winners here are ABInBev and 10 Barrel Brewing, and countless thousands of beer drinkers across the nation who now will be treated to some of the wonders of the 10 Barrel line-up. Losers are Bend locals and current 10 Barrel consumers who shared a convivial sense of ownership in the brewery, the brewers and the brand. ABInBev? Aren’t they an American company? Sadly, not in a legal sense. Read on.

  • Anheuser-Busch (aka Bud) was gobbled up by InBev, a Belgian-Brazilian multinational beverage and brewing company headquartered in Leuven, Belgium and São Paulo, Brazil in 2004.
  • MillerCoors is owned by SAB Miller, a South African megacorp which has undergone several transformations bringing together Canadian beer powerhouse Molson, Miller, Coors, Milwaukee’s Best and several other beers from all over the word. Hamms and Henry Weinhard out of Portland are brewed under this SABMiller umbrella.

Now, Costa Rican megacorp Florida Ice and Farm Company, S.A. (aka Cerveceria Costa Rica, S.A.) owns the North American Breweries Holdings, LLC, which includes Pyramid Ales, Portland Brewing’s MacTarnahan line and East Coast brewery, Magic Hat. If you are a Seattle craft beer old-timer you may remember going over to Poulsbo to visit a really small brewery back in the late 80’s – Thomas Kemper Brewing, that eventually became Pyramid Ales.

It is bad enough when successful American brewers expand out of their hometowns in search of expanded brewing capacity and distribution. We all want the good beers to come to our state but we don’t want to pay a premium price to get it here. Sam Adams is brewed in many locations, the least of which is the home base in Boston, both using contract brewers, and new facilities in PA and OH. At least Sam Adams is still a truly American brewery.

Goose Island (a beer that made Chicago relevant again) is brewing their highest volume beers in several different states, following purchase by the Belgian/Brazillian group AB-InBev. I was excited to see Goose Island beers in Seattle, but I have to admit I was puzzled on how they were saving on distribution costs, since the label indicated the beer was brewed and bottled in Baldwinsville, New York. The breweries claim the beers brewed elsewhere taste just like they would if they came from their home base. They don’t.

Another disturbing development is equity investment firms buying out breweries. They may be locally owned, or at least US owned breweries, but they no longer qualify to be considered a US “craft brewery.” Full Sail Brewing in Hood River, OR was purchased by Encore Consumer Capital. Long marketed as an employee-owned, independent brewer, the sale leads them to an unknown future. Current owners say they will stay on for a year to aid in transition, but what they are going to transition into will be interesting to see.

logo_smallRussian River Brewery’s cash cow, Pliny the Elder is going to be brewed for a while in San Diego by Firestone-Walker Brewing while RRB installs some new equipment in February. We don’t want to run out of Pliny for heaven’s sake.

Update – according to their Facebook post from earlier today, the new equipment has arrived and is still getting set up.

Popular craft breweries Brewery Ommegang (NY) and Boulevard Brewing (Kansas City) also went under the big corporate umbrellas in recent years to Flemish brewing consortium Duvel Moortgat.

Some people don’t care. Beer is beer. The cheaper the better. Variety and taste are for suckers. Some drink whatever they think tastes good regardless of who makes it, or where,  or who owns it. Others like the intimacy of knowing the brewer, the owner,  and forming friendships at a personal level.

If you care who brews your beer, and where the money goes that you pay for it, the craft brewing industry may be your best bet yet.

Support your local brewery.

Updated 3/9/15 – originally published 10/28/14

Bob Shoemaker

Grew up in Renton, WA. Writer. Photographer. Homebrewer. Woodworker. Beer lover. UW grad. - 14 years in Marketing and Advertising communications - 16 years in technical product support, quality, loyalty, support analyst - 12 years as communications business owner