It's a tale as old as time — or at least as old as craft beer.
Scrappy homebrewers start a craft beer company. The beer catches on, becomes a cult classic, and gets noticed by a multi-million dollar company, which then acquires the craft brewer. Customers grow furious, and vow never again to drink the beer they helped make famous.
The latest craft brewer to "sell out" in the eyes of certain, craft-obsessed customers is Wicked Weed. The Asheville, North Carolina brewer announced on Wednesday that it was being acquired by Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewing company.
The backlash was swift. The North Carolina's Craft Brewers' Guild issued a statement saying it was "disheartened" by the acquisition, while craft brewers, such as Jester King in Austin, Texas, pledged to stop selling Wicked Weed beers. Social media erupted with anger and disappointment.
Can't wait to sit by the outdoor fire pit at Wicked Weed in Asheville and sip a Bud Light Lime
— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) May 3, 2017
My thoughts on wicked weed to abinbev pic.twitter.com/SHw8BOgcrq
— Matt Freeman (@mattyfree7) May 3, 2017
"What a bunch of sell outs. For shame," one Instagram user commented. "Just had to go after the money and not give a damn about anything else didn't you?"
Wicked Weed has sold out to Anheuser-Busch. We visited a South End bottle shop to find out the proper way to channel the corporate outrage.
— NotAgendaFive (@AgendaFive) May 3, 2017
However, two of Wicked Weed's co-founders, Walt and Luke Dickinson, say that criticism can't be farther from the truth.
Instead, they told Business Insider that customers would realize that the partnership with Anheuser-Busch was a positive for fans of craft brewing.
Partnering with Anheuser-Busch means great distribution opportunities, more resources, and connections to other breweries, including Goose Island, Blue Point, and Breckenridge Brewery. More opportunities for Wicked Weed means bringing craft beer to more people — which ultimately, they argue, elevates the entire beer industry.
With nearly six years in the craft beer community, there is no doubt that the Dickinsons saw the backlash coming. Why, then, did they decide to go through with the partnership?
"They're the largest company in this segment. And, to have that kind of support behind our mission is immense," Luke said. "We are going to be able to achieve things that we never imagined and have an impact that we never imagined, and that's incredible."
Increasingly, the line between independent brewers and craft brands owned by companies like Anheuser-Busch is blurring as strategic partnerships and acquisitions become increasingly common. Wicked Weed is the 10th American craft brewery that AB InBev has acquired since 2011. Heineken and Molson Coors are making similar acquisitions. And, as mega-brewers invest in craft, the growth of independent craft brewers is finally slowing, after years of explosive growth.
The solution, according to the Dickinsons, isn't to reject companies like Anheuser-Busch, but to work with them.
"There was a big fight to take marketshare from those big guys — the Anheuser-Busch of the world. And I think the exciting thing about beer now is it doesn't need to be take down the big guys any more," Walt said. "It's not a civil war here."
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