This morning’s news that Wicked Weed Brewing, one of the country’s most lauded makers of barrel-aged sours and hoppy ales, had been scooped up by Anheuser-Busch, stunned many people in the beer industry who hadn’t seen it coming.
Wicked Weed, based in the beer-loving city of Asheville, North Carolina, joins others breweries — like Seattle’s Elysian, Chicago’s Goose Island and New York’s Blue Point Brewing — in A-B’s craft and import portfolio, High End, a position that gives the brewery a very big step up in funding and more access to thirsty markets.
“In order to innovate, push the boundaries, and grow, we’ve decided to take on the High End branch of Anheuser-Busch as a strategic partner,” Wicked Weed Brewing announced this morning. “Our founding ownership staff will continue to lead Wicked Weed in their same capacities as we move forward and into the future. This decision is a large part of the future for Wicked Weed, and will allow our brand, staff, and beers to achieve their greatest potential.”
But not everyone is happy about Wicked Weed’s decision to sell to the mega-brewer.
It was only last summer that local beer lovers rejoiced when Wicked Weed started limited distribution to Texas, bringing in beers like La Bonté, a tart farmhouse ale with plums. Already, however, one of Wicked Weed’s biggest local supporters has announced that it will no longer carry its beers or collaborate on projects with its brewers.
Jester King Brewery owner Jeff Stuffings announced the decision on social media, noting that a core principle of the Hill Country brewery is not selling beers from AB InBev or its affiliates.
“We’ve chosen this stance not because of the quality of the beer, but because a portion of the money made off of selling it is used to oppose the interests of craft brewers,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “In Texas, large brewers (and their distributors) routinely oppose law changes that would help small, independent brewers. We choose not to support these large brewers because of their political stances, and in some cases, their economic practices as well.”
Austin Beerworks alluded to the Wicked Weed acquisition on Facebook as well, quoting Modern Times Beer founder Jacob McKean to ultimately say that “selling out” is not something the North Austin brewery — which recently opened a much larger brewery and taproom — will ever be interested in, not even for a billion dollars.
“I’m not going to screw the people who made my success possible in the first place,” Austin Beerworks quoted McKean as saying. “That would be an unethical choice I could never be proud of. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to everyone in this industry, and when it comes time for me to do something else, I refuse to throw a hand grenade over my shoulder on my way out the door.”
In nearby San Antonio, Freetail Brewing co-founder Scott Metzger — who, with the aid of a master’s degree in economics, has helped change and develop some of Texas’ more recent craft beer-related laws — expressed consternation on Twitter.
“The point is that ABI will eventually push to scale all of these brands to the point of crowding out your local, friendly, neighborhood brewer who works 80 (hours per week) to follow his dream and feed his family simultaneously. Beware,” he wrote shortly after the news broke.
Presumably, the Wicked Weed and AB InBev deal is subject to scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice, which stated last summer upon approving the $108-billion merger between the world’s two largest beer producers, Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller, that it would “review any future craft beer and distributor acquisitions.”