I’ve referred to it as the death of the Karbach Brewing as we know it. The sale of Karbach Brewing Company to AB InBev was finalized and announced last week to the dismay of many craft beer aficionados throughout the state. Social media reacted with a mixture of general hatred and vitriol that is usually reserved for Budweiser versus sincere “you hit it big” praise of the brewery. I could not be more furious with the sale. Not because they sold the company, but because of WHO they decided would be their ideal “business partner.”
First of all, I want to see all breweries succeed, but success can certainly be defined in different ways. Some breweries look at statewide distribution as their goal (i.e. Real Ale Brewing), others look at national distribution as being the target (i.e. Oskar Blues Brewing), while others want to go worldwide (i.e. Stone Brewing Company). As admirable as all of these goals are, it takes money to achieve the success desired. It just depends on how patient one is willing to be. Do you give in to the temptation to take the money quickly and perhaps, compromise your integrity or do you stay the course and follow your plan to fruition? Real Ale has been doing this in Texas for 20 years, but has made a simple commitment that resonates with craft beer drinkers in the state. It’s never been about the money, it’s always been about brewing great beer and promoting the Texas craft beer industry.
The reason why I’m furious with Karbach is because of AB InBev. They are well-known within the industry for their repeated attempts to stomp out craft beer selection at grocery stores and within local bars, which is a reason why you see Shock Top, Goose Island and Elysian beers at most bars throughout the state. By acquiring key craft breweries nationwide and creating their own “craft beer” brands internally, they are attempting to take up tap space in many of your favorite bars, restaurants, and sporting events. Let’s not forget to mention the fact that AB InBev controls major distribution channels throughout the state including the second-largest distributor in the country, Silver Eagle Distributors, which is headquartered in Houston. Silver Eagle is the largest distributor of Anheuser-Busch products in the country, so getting into bed with AB InBev should put Karbach into nearly every bar and restaurant in the state and will take away more tap space from true craft brewers.
We are a small business and believe in giving back to our community through our support of other small businesses including local independent breweries and our charitable efforts. If we are currently purchasing their beer, we will stop. Not because we think they are no longer good people worthy of our business (usually it is the opposite), but because they no longer need our support.” – Rob Martindale, Big Hops
I reached out to other craft beer industry professionals to hear their thoughts about the sale. In response to my question of what would change if a brewery partner of yours sold to a macro conglomerate like AB InBev, Rob Martindale, founder and chief of the Big Hops franchise in San Antonio stated that they “will finish out whatever Karbach beers (they) have in current inventory, but will not purchase anymore from them.” He continued to say, “a large part of our business model supports independent breweries available in our local market. We are a small business and believe in giving back to our community through our support of other small businesses including local independent breweries and our charitable efforts. If we are currently purchasing their beer, we will stop. Not because we think they are no longer good people worthy of our business (usually it is the opposite), but because they no longer need our support. We can then shift that same support to small independent breweries that really need it. We believe this will help cultivate and push the boundaries of our industry both locally and globally.” This view is shared by many in the industry who support the craft beer movement and ultimately, support small business.
Another supporter of the craft beer industry is The Hoppy Monk San Antonio general manager, Pedro Longoria. When asked about The Hoppy Monk’s business philosophy and what’s most important to them, he stated that within their core values lies “supporting businesses with a similar philosophy, but also in NOT supporting a company that lobbies in such ways to promote their already existing pseudo-monopoly, AB-InBev.” AB InBev has been strategically purchasing craft breweries across the country to gain avenues into becoming major influencers in key markets throughout the state. Texas is one of the fastest growing craft beer markets, so it was always a well-known fact that someday, a local brewery would sell to them.
We truly hope today’s transaction becomes the catalyst for beer lovers and consumers alike to become more curious, do more research as far as a brewery’s business model, what they stand for, and why it is so important to understand why it matters who owns a brewery.” – Pedro Longoria, The Hoppy Monk
When asked about additional thoughts concerning the buyout, Pedro shared a similar sentiment that many of us have about this sale. “I am concerned about how their ability to massively distribute, bully, confuse retailers and consumers and offer low priced beer will make put (sic) many friends at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.” Ultimately, he concluded with the exact same hope that I believe we all have about the sale of Karbach. “We truly hope today’s transaction becomes the catalyst for beer lovers and consumers alike to become more curious, do more research as far as a brewery’s business model, what they stand for, and why it is so important to understand why it matters who owns a brewery.”
It is important who owns your favorite brewery. Know what their values are. Talk to the people involved in this vision. Truly see if they have an aspiration to be the true independent business owner or if they want to grow their business and sell it to the Wal-Marts, Amazons, and AB InBev’s of the world. One of the best things I’ve read over the past several days came from Brash Brewing in Houston. They said, “To all the people who want to say we should be happy for Karbach achieving the ‘American Dream’ by selling out their brewery to a foreign company that is hell bent on destroying independent craft beer and monopolizing every grocery store beer selection, sports stadium beer selection and bar tap selection- Sierra Nevada’s Ken Grossman started a craft brewery in 1978 when there was no craft beer. He built his own equipment because there wasn’t any that existed for a micro brewery scale. He built his business while at the same time maintaining his original vision and integrity, took care of the employees who passionately help him build an industry, and respected the fans who have supported his brewery. That is Craft Beer. That is the American Dream. By the way…he’s now a self made billionaire. Here’s to the true craft beer pioneers and visionaries.”
That, my friends, is poetry.