This morning, across the Craft Beer nation, the response to another corporate takeover is once again filling social media channels and reinforcing the ever-present question:
We’ve seen it in the past, Elysian, Redhook, Pyramid, Goose Island, Breckenridge, 10 Barrel, Lagunitas, Terrapin… The list is long and disheartening. The move from AB InBev to break into the stronghold of Craft Beer that is Asheville, NC, with the purchase of Wicked Weed, shows that in the end, no beer is safe when you have that deep of pockets.
Here in Canada, it hasn’t been as common to see takeovers in recent years, but the difference here lies in the timing and appearance of the breweries that haven’t been Craft in a while.
So many of the Big Beer purchases of Craft breweries here happened during or even before the early growth of Craft Beer, and has usually been a shell game, so there was less of an understanding of the difference. What this has usually meant is that there are a number of “Craft” style breweries that the regular public view as such, while having the dollar signs of Big Beer backing them.
As BC was a significant location for the birth of Craft Beer in Canada, a lot of the breweries in question have a link to the coast. One of the biggest acquisitions was Granville Island Brewing by Molson Coors through their Creemore Springs brand from Andrew Peller Wines in 2009. The original acquisition by Peller back in 2005 turned a few heads, but the sale to Molson Coors was the real shock.
Before that even was on anybody’s mind, there were other acquisitions happening, albeit they were mainly “small” buying smaller. Back in 1996, Sleeman Brewing bought Okanagan Spring, followed by Shaftebury in 1999. Shaftebury would break free and eventually fall under Tree Brewing’s umbrella, but the prospect of a portfolio of Sleeman, Okanagan Spring, and Unibroue from Quebec – which Sleeman would acquire in 2004 – was just too tempting, and Sapporo came in and bought up all of Sleeman’s brands in 2006.
As mentioned above, Creemore Springs falls under Molson Coors brand lineup. Having been founded in 1987, they almost made it 20 years being independent before they were purchased in 2005 and used as a “Craft” buying Craft tool by their parent company.
A similar story to Creemore Springs happened with Mill Street Brewery. Founded in 2002, they were purchased by Labatt, itself a subsidiary of AB InBev, in 2015. Around that same time, they were also purchasing Turning Point Brewery in the Lower Mainland. This was an interesting purchase, as it was from the Mark Anthony Group, one of the largest wine and spirit companies in the world, and included additional brands such as Mike’s Hard, Okanagan Cider, and Palm Bay.
If you don’t recognize Turning Point though, you’re not alone. It goes by a different name on its label, Stanley Park Brewing. So as much as it tries to sell itself as “Craft”, Stanley Park Brewing is just another page in the AB InBev portfolio.
So as you can see, Big Beer buying Craft doesn’t happen very often on this side of the border, but I can’t see that being the case for long. The growth in Craft will eventually lead to a shift by the larger companies to stem the tide. In the meantime, they’re finding other ways to hide their presence, such as Molson Coors’ Six Pints Specialty Beer Company, founded in 2011 to help with distribution of their acquired brands, it has now become a destination “micro-brewery” with its Beer Academy. At no point does Six Pints disclose its parent company, and it does quite well at convincing guests that it is Craft.
In the end, there isn’t much that a beer drinker can do other than avoid these brands so as to make acquisitions less tempting to Big Beer, but ultimately, not everyone will know, and some people just want the beer they’ve always had.