Anheuser-Busch’s brewers are not happy with the “independent” competition’s latest move

The Brewers Association’s new label promoting beers made by small, independently-owned craft breweries came as shot across the bow last week for beer makers who sold out to Anheuser-Busch.

Garrett Wales, owner of 10 Barrel Brewing Co., responds to new independent label from the Brewers Association. (Courtesy of Anheuser-Busch)
Sour beer at 10 Barrel Brewing. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) beer; nightlife; bars; five points; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;
Sour beer at 10 Barrel Brewing Co. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Brewers Association has a new label promoting beers made by small, independently-owned craft breweries. It came as a shot across the bow last week for the many brewers who have recently sold out to beer giant Anheuser-Busch.

Seven of the breweries in AB’s High End portfolio weighed in Friday in a video response to the Boulder-based nonprofit’s push for “transparency” around what actually qualifies as craft. Reactions ranged from appeals to work together as an industry to direct criticism of the Brewers Association.

According to the association, breweries can’t qualify as “craft” if they are more than 25 percent owned or controlled by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

Colorado’s largest craft brewery, New Belgium Brewing Co., still meets that definition of craft. AB-owned Breckenridge Brewery does not.

Breckenridge Brewery, the only Colorado brewery acquired by AB, was noticeably missing from the video. 10 Barrel Brewing Co., however, was represented. The Oregon brewery opened a location in RiNo earlier this year and was sold to AB in 2014.

“At the end of the day the beer does the talking, not the label on the package, and the consumer makes up their own mind,” 10 Barrel owner Garrett Wales said in the video.

In part, the infighting over what kind of beer people are drinking boils down to money. Craft brewers are fighting to carve out a larger share of beer sales while beer giants are working on the opposite end to retain their dominance over the industry.

While small and independent craft brewers represent 99 percent of the more than 5,300 breweries in the U.S., they make just 12 percent of the beer sold in the country, according to the Brewers Association

The co-founder of Arizona-based Four Peaks Brewing Co., Andy Ingram, said the industry should be working together against “clear threats from wine and spirits.”

Going forward, the BA should focus the brewing industry around making ever better beer, Ingram said. “When a major trade organization is saying it doesn’t matter what’s in your glass as long as it’s independent, and they’re telling consumers that, then that’s a big issue — you’re saying go ahead and drink crap just as long as you don’t support the big guys. And it’s not healthy and not a good way going forward.”

The president of AB’s High End portfolio, Felipe Szpigel, said “consumers don’t necessarily care about independence.”

“What they care about is, what is the impact that small businesses have on the communities? And are the communities being better?” Szpigel said. “Think about our partners, the amount of support we give locally, the amount of jobs that we provide locally by keeping on investing in our own partners.”

AB is indeed a major employer in Colorado.

In December 2015, before the Breckenridge acquisition went through, AB told the Coloradoan it had roughly 1,000 employees in Colorado including about 525 workers at its brewing facility in Fort Collins. Breckenridge Brewery told the newspaper at the time it had 383 people.

Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at agarcia@denverite.com or twitter.com/adriandgarcia.

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Adrian D. Garcia

Author: Adrian D. Garcia

Adrian D. Garcia is on business and trends for Denverite, serves as treasurer for the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and on the board of the Denver Press Club. He can be reached at agarcia@denverite.com.