03 Aug 2017 @ 5:19 PM 

A little earlier this week, a good friend said to me: Hey. I’ve missed you writing on TopFermented. I figured with all of these acquisitions that you’d have something to say.

Sure, said I, I have a lot of thoughts, but not only am I busy as hell with the brewery these days, I also feel like I need to be a little more delicate with my words as President of the NC Craft Brewers Guild.

And then, lo, the muse gods answered all of our prayers and Anchor Brewing was acquired by Sapporo.

Since the last time I wrote a post here, disparaging ABI, a lot has happened in the M&A world of the craft brewing industry, most notably ABI’s acquisition of local NC darlings Wicked Weed, which seemed to hit home with a lot of people.

To me?  This one.

Why?  Well, because it looks a lot more like a signal than all of the others.  This brewery was first.  Fritz Maytag rescued Anchor from closing its doors in 1965 and effectively became the first craft brewery.  It’s been doing what we’re all doing for longer than anybody.  It was the model for so many breweries over the past 50 years.

On the other hand, it’s easy to forget that Fritz Maytag sold Anchor to Griffin Group, owners of BrewDog (hah, punks, sure thing fellas) and Skyy Vodka, way back in 2010, so no big shock that it was on the sale block as mergers and acquisitions are heating up in the beer industry.  You’ll see in the article that Keith Greggor, of the Griffin Group (and CEO of Anchor) said that “the move was a year in the making and the result of speaking with ‘many, many’ larger breweries all over the world to find the right fit.”

In fact, none of it is really a shock.  Many people in the industry are in the same space that Fritz came to in 2010:  In need of an exit strategy.  They’ve put their time in, they’ve grown their companies, they’ve done well by their employees, they’ve brought the brand they built into the world of success.  What else are you supposed to do?  Just close shop and lay everybody off?  Sell and go enjoy your grandkids, for gods sake.  Fritz was a pioneer in exit strategies just as he was in many other aspects of the craft industry.  He beat most everybody there by years.

Still – it feels like a larger symbol – this beacon of independence, innovation, and entrepreneurship is now just another brand swept up in the great brand homogenization of the past few years.  Like it or not, it’s part of an international corporation that will benefit by dragging sales away from small, local, independent producers.  From now on, when you buy an Anchor beer, that buck will ultimately stop at Sapporo Breweries, Toiso, Eniwa, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan.

So, you know, support your local international brewery.  Or just buy what tastes good, I guess.

Ultimately, that’s the most disappointing part of it to me.  Every time one of these happens, a big wave goes through the craft industry in which a bunch of people who say: “Who gives a shit? If it tastes good, who cares who makes it?”

Well, I do.

And, sure.  I am biased.  The vast majority of breweries who will have M&A as a viable exit strategy look very similar to the ones that have already been acquired:  Established, 15+ years old, growing, with a good on-site presence and wide distribution.  The vast majority of breweries who will suffer for it look a lot like mine:  Tiny, hyper local, battling with congested distribution markets and a variable tourism trade after 3 – 7 years of being open with 3000 new breweries behind us eagerly waiting to take our place.  It sure as shit matters to me.

It’s difficult to see our forefathers and our pioneers – our independent giants and captains of industry – slip away from us.  It feels like a betrayal to the innovative attitude that seduced all of us 2nd, 3rd, and 4th rounders into the industry in the first place – the dreams of working hard with your own hands to make a cool product has gotten lost in the fast paced factory.  It hurts to see someone you idolized as a successful entrepreneur and businessman just become another suit and tie.

But it’s what the future holds for our industry.

On the wall of my production floor here at Mystery, there’s a quote from Fritz Maytag that reads, “Beer doesn’t make itself by itself. It takes an element of mystery and things unknown.”  Most people think it’s how I named my brewery.  It isn’t.  But it speaks to me enormously about the product and the reason that many of us are in the industry itself.  It’s more than just a business to a lot of us, it’s our way of life, it’s our passion.

So, this week, I’ll go buy my last Anchor Steam.  I’ll hoist it in memory to the innovative business that Fritz Maytag once built, and I won’t look back, just like I’ve done with so many breweries lately.  Then, I’ll get back up on my brew deck and pour my heart and soul in.

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Categories: brewery, distribution, industry, Mystery Brewing Company, news, op-ed
Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 03 Aug 2017 @ 05 21 PM

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