It’s a crazy, ironic world: Wicked Weed sold out to ABI Megabrew in the midst of the Stars Wars Week celebrations. The struggle between institutionalized power and homogeneity versus the spirit of independent thinking and living is real and timeless: Imperial Forces versus the Rebel Alliance.
We all counted the Wicked Weed team as part of our Rebel Alliance; their brand even mocked an old monarch. But the king of beers had enough money to cause Wicked Weed to give up their rebel life. I don’t begrudge them. It’s lucrative to be part of the Galactic Empire, and now they’re playing with a stacked deck.
Walt and I shared beers together a couple weeks ago, and a few days ago I gave Evan a big thumbs-up on the exciting news that he will soon have a daughter. I hope to do more of the same with both of them in the future. They’re forever good dudes.
For those of us who are left in the independent brewers’ community, we have to use this moment to make our hardscrabble lives better. Kudos to Jester King for showing how one small gesture can be a powerful statement against Megabrew. But this moment will soon pass. How do we sustain and promote our cause beyond the headlines of the next week or two?
Creature Comfort’s Chris Herron wrote a GREAT PIECE about the potential ABI endgame of de-valuing craft beer by bringing average craft prices down. ABI is not an evil Empire, but its institutional power is an existential threat to smaller breweries in wholesale channels. The fact of the matter is that most independent breweries cannot compete in a wholesale world that doesn’t function on at least $10/6-pack (or even higher for 7%+ or highly hopped beers). So his analysis points to the difficult road ahead: we must build our own brand identity and equity even deeper. Consumers must both be able to identify independent brewers as such (how many people buying Sculpin and Space Dust know them as soldiers of multinational corporations?), and be willing to pay a premium for our beers.
Boycotting a single festival won’t get the job done. In fact, now more than ever we will need to get out of our breweries and in front of consumers to share our passion, tell our stories, and ask for their support. Publishing stories via digital media about our team and the beauty of small-scale brewing (and not just trying to advertise a new beer release at the pub) is a requirement. We also need to remind our retailers and distributors of how much more profit our higher-priced cases generate for them, so that they motivate their staffs to amplify our stories. And maybe we now need to refer to ourselves as “Independent Brewers” rather than “Craft Brewers” – identify ourselves as something that Golden Road and 10 Barrel cannot.
I can’t help but worry that some of the emotion right now stems from a subconscious fear that we won’t be able to compete against this ABI Empire – that WW is the beginning of the end. But it wasn’t over when the Death Star blew up Alderaan, and the fundamental rules of the beer business haven’t changed. Our breweries have to stand for something different and better than Megabrew.
We can do this! But success depends on deciding which festivals we ARE going to attend, not deciding on the festivals we aren’t going to attend. So while Upland won’t be at the Funkatorium Invitational, everyone on our team will be somewhere that weekend sharing our beers and our stories, and working to make consumers’ lives a little less homogenized and a little more interesting.
President, Upland Brewing Co.
PS – Some people rightly pointed out that our action might have the unintended consequence of reducing the funds raised for Asheville’s Eblen-Kimmel Charities. Upland is making a $250 contribution directly to EKC on Monday. We REALLY love spending time in Asheville; it reminds us of a bigger version of our hometown, Bloomington; we will continue to be frequent flyers there and want to see that community thrive.