Receiving the shaft
By: Joe Gunn
Up until about ten years ago, it was pretty easy to determine who was a craft brewery and who was a giant company that brewed garbage. I’ve noticed recently that the line that separates the legitimate craft beer industry from the macro jerks has been getting blurrier. That is no accident. The big guys are secretly trying to move in and some smaller ones are secretly using the big guys to get bigger. Some little guys have grown up to the point they’re referred to as mid-cap stocks. While some sell out completely, some toe the line on what’s legitimately crafty. As always, I’m willing to judge these people as if I have a clue, and pretend that my opinion counts for something.
To keep it simple, I say we just add a new category of “kinda legit” craft beer. Somewhere in the middle of crafty and shitty. Shafty is an obvious and logical choice. It’s catchy, easy to remember, and the ideas for the mascot would be hilarious. We would say “so and so brewery got the shaft” or “yeah, that brewery is pretty shafty nowadays.” This isn’t meant to be a punishment, it’s quite the opposite. I’m trying to offer a better alternative for companies that should lose their craft status, without being lumped in with the macro jerks.
These guys are probably the shaftiest of all of them, but in the best possible way. First of all, the company is The Boston Beer Company. Sam Adams doesn’t get to sneak away and pretend they’re not associated with Twisted Tea. That being said, CEO and founder Jim Koch is legitimately a craft beer guy. He started Sam Adams well before the micro beer craze that started to pick up in the nineties, and he’s still willing to sit down with pretty much anybody and talk beer. When he famously shared his hops during the worldwide shortage of 2008, he literally kept some breweries alive. On the other hand, when you’re a publicly traded company and your market cap is over $4 billion, you’re just not crafty anymore. There’s unfortunately no way around it. Also, calling whatever that crap is in their Cranberry Lambic bottles a “lambic” should have had them thrown out a long time ago. In his defense, Koch did set up the company so shareholders have almost no control over the company, so he still has creative license, which is what this is all about.
Craft Brew Alliance
This one’s name is a mockery in itself. It basically formed when two iffy micro breweries (Red Hook and Widmer Brothers) joined up, bought another iffy one (Kona), and went public. To make it worse, InBev/Budweiser owns about a third of the company, has two seats on the board of directors, controls its distribution, and has special status in the company’s board committees (whatever the hell that means).
Terrapin Beer Company
Good try, Matt Satten. What I know about Terrapin is that it was founded by two guys who met in a brewery, who worked very hard for years to raise the money to get their company off the ground. They named the brewery after the Grateful Dead and made good beer in various breweries contractually for about eight years before they found the money to build their own brewery. Because of this, I don’t begrudge them for jumping on an opportunity to raise a bunch of cash, especially to raise their holdings in their own company. The problem is these guys borrowed money from MillerCoors to buy out a group of their original investors. In itself, not a bad idea, but within a year, Terrapin sold MillerCoors about 20% of the company to get rid of that loan. This is a perfect example of both worlds benefitting from shafting. Jerry Garcia would be rolling in his grave. Side note: The image of Jerry Garcia rolling around is adorable.
Blue Point Brewing Company
I probably shouldn’t even include these guys but it provides a good example. Blue Point claims that selling their company to InBev for 24 million dollars won’t cause the quality of their beer to suffer. This is an example of big business talking to you like you’re an idiot. We all know this to be impossible and they should be ashamed for saying that. But hypothetically, if a company kept their standards high after a sale, should they be lumped in with the big guys or should they be able to receive the big shaft? There’s no way they can be accepted by the craft community, but an argument could be made that the quality is the most important aspect. I personally would call bullshit on any brewery that would take this route but felt like I had to include them to fulfill my word count. Toasted Lager. Gimmie a break.