Can Craft Beer Survive AB InBev? (The Answer is “Yes”)

June 25th, 2015 · No Comments · General Beer News

There is a very interesting and informative article posted today over at Bloomberg Business. Titled “Can Craft Beer Survive AB AnBev”, the piece mostly focuses on Andy Goeler, CEO of craft beer for AB InBev’s Anheuser-Busch division. There is some good commentary on the Elysian deal in there, including quotes from Elysian founders Joe Bisacca and Dick Cantwell.

The article certainly gives some good insight into the CEO driving their strategy, and Goeler’s answer to Tony Magee’s allegations regarding pricing beer well-below market value is the type of response you’d expect from someone in his position:

Others say the company wants to do more than just befuddle beer fans—it wants to drive its craft rivals out of business. Tony Magee, founder of Lagunitas Brewing in Petaluma, Calif., says AB InBev is selling barrels of Goose Island for half what its free-spirited competitors charge for their products. “What they really want to do is disrupt this whole craft thing so they can go back to the business that they’d like to be in, which is making lighter beer with inexpensive ingredients,” he says.

Goeler finds such talk exasperating. “People say, ‘You guys are trying to put craft out of business,’?” he says. “Well, we’ve done more to get craft beer to more people than anyone in the industry.”

I really wish the author (Devin Leonard) had pressed harder on Goeler to elaborate on their position/strategy for that point in the story. I think that it is possibly the most important piece for consumers to understand in how it relates to driving AB InBev’s strategy. Like market leaders in many industries, I’m assuming that AB InBev would be happy to eliminate competition. Cutting prices to AB-owned craft beers in key markets is a good way to work towards that.

As for Cantwell’s departure from Elysian, there is some good commentary included in the piece. Here is a section discussing Cantwell’s reaction to the “peach pumpkin ale” debacle:

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. Elysian co-founder Cantwell went to a Super Bowl party and found the ad harder to shrug off. “We were watching the game over in my little living room,” says Steve Luke, a brewer at Elysian. “That commercial came on, and you could hear a pin drop afterwards. It was not good.” Soon after, Cantwell tendered his resignation. “I had already decided I would not be able to work with my former partners,” he says. “Seeing the ad solidified my unwillingness to ever work with Anheuser-Busch again. There’s a big difference between an independent craft brewery that makes its own decisions and an enormous company that has one arm devoted to what they consider to be craft beer. In the case of Anheuser-Busch, they are perfectly content to have the different arms of their company at war with each other.”

Goeler laments Cantwell’s departure, but he’s proud the former brewmaster is the only one of 217 Elysian employees who’s left because AB InBev bought the company. “Dick Cantwell wanted to be involved and just changed his mind,” Goeler says. “That’s fine. We have Joe and Dave, the other two partners that still want to be actively involved.” He says his mission is to preserve the successful, offbeat cultures of these breweries, which means keeping the leadership intact, if possible: “If they wanted to sell and run away, what am I going to do? Go run it myself?”

Check out the full article on Bloomberg:


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