Opinion - Iconic Tour

Craft beer dreams of $213 billion Anheuser-Busch acquisition

Julia Herz, craft beer program director, Brewers Association

International beverage conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev has purchased 10 formerly independent U.S. craft brewers within the last few years, starting with Goose Island in 2011 and most recently Wicked Weed out of North Carolina this year. The beer giant plans to continue to buy small breweries across the country. Now small and independent craft brewers are fighting back.

To shine a light on the inequities in the marketplace, TakeCraftBack.com has launched the #TakeCraftBack campaign, seeking to crowdsource pledges of support to buy Anheuser-Busch — for $213 billion — before ABI can buy up any more craft brewers.

Indie craft brewers have a powerful collective voice, and — while the campaign is a humorous rally call to draw attention to a serious issue — they are using it. After all, craft brewers have turned the beer world upside down, evolving the U.S. beer scene into a new and more meaningful place.

In the United States, craft beer means more than it ever has before. It means culinary advancement, variety and innovation. And as the beverage of moderation, it means liquid enjoyment that delivers advanced kilned and roasted malt flavors, pleasing hop profiles and yeast-driven goodness unmatched by any other fermented beverage.

Goose Island's India Pale Ale is pictured with Budweiser beer on March 29, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.
Getty Images

Yet craft beer also means entrepreneurs, collaboration and philanthropy. It means economic development and it means … jobs. In 2016, small and independent craft brewers were responsible for more than 456,373 full-time equivalent jobs, with 128,768 jobs at breweries and brewpubs. What does this all mean? It means revitalizing neighborhoods and giving back in exponential ways.

Last year craft brewers contributed $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy. The figure is derived from the total impact of beer brewed by craft brewers as it moves through the three-tier system (breweries, wholesalers and retailers), as well as from all non-beer products, like food and merchandise that brewpub restaurants and brewery taprooms sell. In 2016 the overall U.S. beer market was $107.6 billion in sales, with independent craft brewers representing $23.5 billion. Talk about a small-business contribution to our country! Mind you, these successes are happening amid changing and challenge times.

Last year craft brewers contributed $67.8 billion to the U.S. economy.

This new, tongue-in-cheek campaign uses a page from ABI's playbook. The global #TakeCraftBack campaign not only declares the importance of independent ownership of U.S. breweries but also represents the craft brewing community's intent to take craft back from Big Beer. After all, independent ownership does matter to many beer lovers — and for good reason. Craft brewers put community over corporation, people and principles over profit, and beer over the bottom line.

If indie ownership wasn't important, why wouldn't ABI put its name on the labels of their acquired, formerly independent beer brands? Beer drinkers know that big brewers are buying up little brewers, but it's hard to tell who has been purchased based on the beer label and packaging. We have the right to know who makes our beer. ABI intends to dominate and forever alter the beer market by presenting purchased brands as if they were truly, authentically independent — thus presenting an illusion of choice to distributors and retailers and narrowing real choice for us beer lovers. This type of illusion should not become a common marketplace reality.

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Here in the United States, craft brewers represent 98 percent of today's 5,700 breweries, yet they have less than 13 percent market share by volume. Think about that. Is that a balanced beer marketplace? Speaking of balance, ever wonder why many of your local beer brands are not on the liquor-store shelf or restaurant menu? Ask Big Beer — they have lots of influence on who sells what.

Indeed, $213 billion is a stretch. But hey, craft brewers are entrepreneurs and eternal optimists. It's OK to dream. The astronomical number for this goal — the largest "crowdfunding" effort ever in the history of man and womankind as we know it — helps put the gigantic size of this one, specific global beer company in perspective: If everyone on the planet gave $10 to the campaign, we would still only be about a third of the way there. No, actual dollars aren't being collected here, just pledges of support.

Change is more likely to come from people choosing a craft beer from a small, independent brewer. You get the idea.

By Julia Herz, craft beer program director, Brewers Association