The craft beer world ended this week in North Carolina.
Or so it might seem.
Wicked Weed, one of North Carolina’s best-known craft breweries, is being vilified, or maybe crucified, by the craft beer community at large over a deal, announced this week, to sell the label to Anheuser-Busch (AB), the beer mega-giant that sells Budweiser, Busch, Michelob and many other brands of suds.
Wicked Weed, an Asheville-based brewery founded in 2012, took the state by storm, becoming a household name for craft aficionados in bars and bottle shops.
It’s not the first craft label to be acquired by AB over the last few years, as craft beer’s popularity has grown. But the many, seemingly not-so-loyal, fans of Wicked Weed seem to be personally affronted by the brewer’s decision to sell to AB.
If there is a concern that the beer will no longer be the same product it once was, then fine, but wait to pass judgment. That is not what is happening, however.
Already the North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild has said that Wicked Weed is no longer a voting member of the guild anymore.
Another reason for the backlash has been AB’s apparently hostile attitude to craft breweries that it does not own, whereas the craft industry has historically taken the position that a rising tide of craft popularity lifts all boats. That view is not popular in the wider beer world where large conglomerates like AB, Miller-Coors and Heineken are vying for market share of watered-down beers on the menu for the football game on Sunday.
But I propose that there is a legitimate reason for a growing craft brewer to want a large ally, or in this case come under the ownership of the largest publicly traded beer conglomerate in the world.
In North Carolina the state only allows craft brewers to self-distribute their beer if they are producing less than 25,000 barrels of beer in a year.
Now a barrel is 31 gallons, meaning that a brewer has to produce 775,000 gallons of beer in a year to hit that mark; that’s just a little less than 100 million ounces of beer.
While that is a lot, and I mean a lot, of beer — 1.37 million six-packs to be fairly exact. But a brewery that is approaching that level would go from being undeniably one of the most, of not the most, popular craft brewer in the state, to the small fish in the pond that is dominated by the big sharks of Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors.
It seems that it may be a better option in the long run to go with an established brand, if a craft brewer is confident that what made it so successful to start will remain largely un-interfered-with. Such a move might ensure the craft brand was better represented with distributors, whose largest clients are AB and their contemporaries.
But for those diehard anti-“big beer,” craft brew fans, there is good news.
There are literally more than 150 other breweries to choose from in this state, plus many, many more across the U.S., so maybe the world isn’t ending?
As for me, I’ll leave those IPAs that Wicked Weed is known for behind for a porter or a nice dark stout any day.