It happens every time.
News of a craft brewery entering a deal with a beverage giant hits the web, and craft loyalists begin to panic. This time it was Texas brewer. On Thursday, Anheuser Busch-InBev announced plans to acquire Houston's Karbach Brewing Co., a Lone Star favorite and one of the state's fastest growing brands. The deal, like most modern-day mergers, is expected to help Karbach expand its portfolio and footprint, according to a press release.
Cue an internet-wide freak out.
"Noooooooo... another one bites the dust. grr," said one member of Texas Let's Talk Craft Beer Facebook group.
"Well, the Cubs won last night and Trump may very well be elected next week so Hell has seemed to froze over so..." said another.
In light of the news, Austin Beerworks in the state's capitol posed the question, "Would you still buy our beer if we sold out to someone like Anheuser Busch?" on social media. Answers ranged from "No" to "I believe you'd get your ass kicked doing something like that, man."
D-FW's Revolver Brewing garnered a similar reaction when it announced over the summer MillerCoors had purchased a majority stake in the company. And just the day before the Karbach news, Revolver announced a new local growth strategy -- it will open a second facility in forthcoming Texas Live! entertainment district near the Texas Rangers ballpark in Arlington in 2019.
If there's evidence that big beer companies are making good on their promises, why are these partnerships a big deal?
We spoke with members of the D-FW beer community and found three main answers.
Big beer may limit competition
Many craft industry personnel say that as consolidation of beer ownership increases, the chances for small brewers to compete decreases.
One place this has long been an issue is behind the bar. Many new breweries begin distributing their products in kegs because of the prohibitive cost of canning and bottling. There are, however, a limited number of taps on every wall. Considering a parent company's relationship with a beer distributor or venue, could a merger position a craft brand more advantageously for a tap?
Possibly, said Craig Poupore, vice president and plant manager of MillerCoors' Fort Worth brewery, in a September interview.
"The place to get a foothold and out into consumers hands is at an on-premise venue," Poupore said. "How are you going to get that tap handle? You gotta knock one of the other tap handles off."
According to Wim Bens, founder of Lakewood Brewing Co. in Garland, the biggest advantage a company like Karbach will have is price. Because businesses that sign on with large brewing companies gain access to raw materials at a better cost, they are able to lower the price of their beers for consumers, he says.
"I can't sell my six-packs for $5.99 because I'd go out of business," Bens says.
Aubrie Wills, sales representative for Dallas' Noble Rey Brewing Co., agrees that access to resources, for example canning services, is one inhibitor for independent brewers to stay cost competitive.
"The minimum orders for canning has increased quite a bit in the recent years, making them less available to the 'little guys,'" she says. "Same goes for hop contracts."
Exposure also plays a role. Big beer companies have more marketing money and more sway when deciding which brands are well-positioned in grocery stores, Bens says, which means craft brands have to do even more to stand out.
"The only thing that we can do is educate our loyal fans and reiterate the fact we're a family-owned business and we like it that way," he says. "We're embedded in the community. I think that's what makes craft beer stand out in the first place."
It's worth noting craft brewers aren't the only ones worried about ownership consolidation. Since Anheuser Busch-InBev's recent mega-merger with SABMiller, the Department of Justice has vowed to "carefully scrutinize any future craft acquisitions" to ensure the company isn't monopolizing the market.
Fans get behind the indie, underdog mentality
Michael Peticolas, founder of Dallas' Peticolas Brewing Co., attributes the public backlash to a "culture clash." For years, he says, the craft beer community has built itself as an alternative to money-hungry corporations. And when someone whose long-advocated independence joins the big dogs, it can feel disingenuous, Peticolas says.
Jase Hicks, a local craft beer drinker, believes in supporting the small businesses, so if a brewery is picked up by a larger company, his money may be ill spent. (Remember that time AB-InBev used a Super Bowl spot to knock craft beer?)
"As a craft beer enthusiast, I want to see my money spent go toward the craft beer industry and further the growth of the community that is being built," Hicks says. "The macro companies have long been known to use really questionable methods to damage the craft beer industry, including paying stores to shove the brands as far from the eye as possible."
The Texas Craft Brewers Guild also believes independence matters. In August, coincidentally following the Revolver-MillerCoors transaction, the guild revised its definition of craft brewer to preclude any brewery "owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest)" by a company that produces more than 2 million barrels of beer annually from becoming a voting party of the organization.
The guild's mission to advance the common interest of Texas craft brewers, according to the website.
Mass-produced beer means bad quality
One of the most common things drinkers say happens after an acquisition is that the quality of beer goes down. Hicks points to Goose Island Beer Co., which was picked up by Anheuser Busch in 2011 and is renown for its barrel-aging program. That program has come under suspect in recent years after the famous Bourbon County stout was recalled due to infection.
"I can't help but to think that lack of care for quality/control is a main culprit," Hicks says.
That's a preconceived notion, said Poupore at MillerCoors. Not only did he emphasize the importance of quality and consistency in MillerCoors' flagship brands, but when it comes to acquisitions, Poupore said the company heavily considers the quality of the beer.
"One of the worst things any one of us could do is jeopardize that through cutting corners," he said. "The partnership we set up with these folks are really about enabling them to do their job and opening more markets for them.
"But their footprint, their signature, their legacy is what makes their beer," Poupore says.
Still, Peticolas feels like he's heard that before and believes only time will tell.
"The truth is in the pudding," he says. "We'll be able to taste that beer in two years time and say, 'Does that taste like a Hopadillo to me?'"