Craft beer loyalists have lots of complaints about macro brews.
"This tastes like hobo urine."
"Why do I care if Pitbull drinks this? Also, who is Pitbull?"
"These ingredients are boring and trashy. This must be Kardashian Ale."
Someone who has invested countless hours into developing his or her craft-loving palate sees these big-label beers as an affront to the passions that sustain their soul. These people love craft beer, and so naturally, they hate it’s opposite.
I get it. I don’t necessarily agree, but I get it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. For example, my opinion is that, eight times out of ten, I’d rather have a hundred igloo-cold Bud Lights than any frou frou, room temperature, 12.7 ABV "craft experience." Again, to each their own right? But last week, AB InBev muscled itself into territory that even I have no desire to defend.
By attempting to purchase Grupo Modelo (the current brewer/owners of Corona, among other brands) AB InBev basically laid bare their intentions on Rich Uncle MoneyBags-style monopolization of the world of beer. The sale has been temporarily blocked by an injunction from the U.S. Justice Department, but if (when?) it goes through, this new mega-company will control just shy of half of the U.S. beer market. This does not bode well for anyone.
Even if you’re a macro man like myself, a market presence of this size is scary. AB InBev already is the 800-pound gorilla, but apparently they won’t be happy until they are the 8,000-pound gorilla who is able to use his King Kong strength to keep all of the other gorillas small and weak and off of delivery trucks. A company of this size will dominate even more shelf space than they already do, and this domination will only increase with time and pressure. Stalwart merchants who refuse to play nice just to sell Budweiser will have to reconsider their stance when you throw all of these other brands into the mix. All of a sudden, the beer renaissance that has kept the big boys honest and the craft consumers enthralled becomes something that is in serious jeopardy.
Image credit: Willy Volk
Where does it stop? Will there be a backroom deal struck between AB InBev and MillerCoors? Will all craft breweries have to band together just to have a shot at a little bit of shelf space? Will (pseudo)mass-market craft beer disappear completely, leaving forlorn pockets of homebrewers who are unable or unwilling to satisfy the thirsty urges of the widespread hops-hearted? Maybe these seem like far-fetched, Doomsday scenarios, but if the Justice Department is unsuccessful in permanently blocking this merger, I won’t know what to believe.
We all want choices, and beyond that, we all deserve them. Sadly, if AB InBev gets their way, the glory of choice will be well on its way to being replaced by the monotony and price-gouging of unchecked monopoly. Sure, I’m not a craft crusader, but I do love the competition of capitalism on an even playing field. So, here’s to hoping that Uncle Sam has his way and craft beers are able to mingle freely with the big boys on store shelves for years to come.