The Great Debate: Is ‘Craft’ No Longer ‘Craft’ After an Acquisition?

Nothing sets a craft beer enthusiast off on an angry rant more than the topic of major beer distributors purchasing craft breweries. Many angry drinkers have strong opinions on the subject, but at the end of the day, is it really all that bad?

Big brands like AB InBev or Molson have been attempting to combat the growth of craft beer for years now. Originally the plan was to release competing labels, but it’s become far more lucrative to simply purchase well respected craft brewers and operate them under the larger label. This admittedly, has been happening in the US far more than in Canada, but it is happening on both sides of the border. Men’s Journal has an extensive list of the US based breweries that have been scooped up by larger distributors, and it can be shocking.

But does a brewery being scooped up actually mean that the quality or authenticity of a brewery diminishes?

That’s a broad question, so let’s use a few examples to really dig into it. From a US perspective, brands like Elysian, 10 Barrel, Ballast Point, Goose Island and Lagunitas are all controlled (either wholly, or in part) by a much larger label. Now, I for one, had knowledge of this already, but it hasn’t stopped me from salivating over something like a Sour Series beer from Goose Island or a Ballast Point Sculpin IPA. The quality of these beers have remained, and in some cases, it’s made it more available to drinkers in markets that otherwise wouldn’t have access to these beers (although I still can’t get my hands on a Bourbon County Stout, but that’s another topic).

North of the border we’ve got brands like Vancouver Island Brewing, Granville Island, Stanley Park, Mill Street and Unibroue that in some form or another are owned or operated by another label. Does this make them any worse? Unibroue still makes a delicious Blanche de Chambly, Mill Street remains organic and Granville Island puts out regular limited series small batch beers that are top-notch.

I think the point I’m getting at here is as craft beer drinkers, we get incredibly defensive about the so called “purity” of craft beer. We start getting semantically involved in the difference between true craft beer and the fakes, when in fact the argument should really be about drinking good quality beer.

Yes, drinking a “true” craft beer supports the local economy and helps the industry thrive, but does that mean you have to avoid or shun any beer that gets absorbed into the larger ecosystem? For some maybe it does; but then I suppose those individuals are the ones that don’t buy iPhones, shop anywhere but organic farmers markets and purchase clothing made with materials within 100 miles. I’m not knocking those people, I’m just saying for the rest of us craft beer doesn’t need to be so black and white.

Drink what you enjoy, forget about the “right” way to be a craft beer drinker.

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