The Topic: How Much Wicked in Wicked Weed?
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Salt City, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been writing on beer-related topics and interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast, for over 15 years.
Written by Ken Carman
Millie and I stopped by Wicked Weed maybe 5 years ago. Enjoyable, a little nuts, crazy busy. I even brought some to Beaver River Station, NY for my annual beer tasting, and some for relatives at a reunion in Rehoboth, Delaware.
A lot of the craft community is also going nuts, but not in a good way, about Weed being bought by InBev. You would think they had traded their soul to Satan, and I don’t disregard the possibility that in the future that may prove to be the case. But maybe not as of right now.
I’m here to provide a little perspective, some of it more positive than naysayers would ever consider, some worse than those who shrug this off would admit too.
There’s already been an internet war of sorts where brewers/employees published a rant about how things would just get better and InBev would not interfere and only help them. This was countered by a former employee saying he quit because things had already headed into cost cutting/care less about the staff-land. (Possibly in preparation for mega purchasing them?) To be clear he said he was still proud to have worked there, it wasn’t sour grapes, but just that he need things they were cutting; like health benefits. He also felt the employee friendly atmosphere was disappearing due, in part, to bean counter counting.
Let it be written that public interactions between employers and former employees should be viewed skeptically because both sides tend to frame them their own way. Can’t count the number of times I’ve been told by employees they quit because of how bad the company was getting, and employers claiming they were fired for being bad workers and/or stealing from them. In fact so many have said the last I tend to ignore that claim too easily, I suppose.
A lot of what happens with Wicked depends on factors far beyond WW’s control or intent. As of now, from most reports, InBev generally leaves these breweries alone and provides support, especially financially, they never had before. WW makes great beer, so should continue to brew interesting brews… for now. I suspect they’ll brew great as long as InBev continues their overall general hands off policy.
The bad news being mega corporations have a tendency to often revert to the more common hands on policy, especially when bean counters do what they do. Eventually it often comes down to pleasing stockholders, board members and greedy CEOs interested in making the big bucks while they cut, cut, cut.
That’s why a lot of us have concerns. The former parent company, A/B, had a history of stuffing money into politician’s pockets election time in return for laws that screwed craft, spend money to grease the tracks headed towards pro-A/B legislation and influence local beer boards. Distributors help, and sometimes they helped because they were told if they sold craft they’d get no Bud, Miller… still death to most big distributors.
When they figured out they simply couldn’t crush craft, they created some of the worst fake craft beer ever to hit the market. I remember a Mich Stout (or was it Porter?) that tasted like it was pure over boiled roasted barley.
To be fair, Miller was worse. At least A/B put somewhere on their packaging that they brewed it. Miller/Coors created fake breweries like Plank Road to con consumers into thinking these were independent craft brews.
Good news! A/B is not InBev. InBev is a conglomerate controlling many diverse, unique, breweries, including Belgian breweries. Obviously they are far more married to exotic, interesting, brews than A/B ever had the interest in being.
But, to quote Woopi from Ghost, “(We still could be) in DANGER, Girl!” InBev is no stranger to using political influence to try to dominate markets, as this article from last year states..
As a brew community we owe it to our customers, to our local independent breweries, to ourselves, to keep InBev on track by buying from those small independent brewers. Buy mega if you must, but always buy local; especially when they’re brewing unique, interesting product. Homebrewers and local, independent brewers, owe it to each other to do what InBev can’t do: support each other by sponsoring and helping homebrew competitions. We can also push the stylistic envelope and also change the nature of any style in ways that will have InBev brewers following us too.
I’ve seen it so many times before. One look at the 2015 BJCP Guidelines and the IPA category alone has IPAs never listed before. Who created those? Generally, not InBev nor Miller/Coors. Homebrewers. Smaller batch brewers interested in pushing stylistic limits.
Done right homebrewers and independent brewers complement each other in ways homebrewers and mega rarely; if ever, could.
Meanwhile InBev has the sources and the power to keep the larger public interested in the adventure called craft beer. It’s up to us to encourage them to run to keep up, not become too settled in established product.
To work well the relationship between homebrewers, indes and mega need to be in a symbiotic, not parasitic, relationship. For too many years lawyers, pols, beer boards, and people like the Busch family who owned A/B, insisted on treating us as enemies.
It’s up to us: homebrewers and inde brewers to keep challenging them and each other. It’s a daunting task, but a tasty one.
Brew Biz : Werts and All,` is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on, beer-related topics including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the brew business, and discussions regarding all things beer.
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