So, let’s talk about Wicked Weed Brewing for a minute.
First, a little history:
Wicked Weed Brewing was founded in December of 2012 and is based in Asheville, NC. Their original brewpub typically has about 25 beers on tap. Wicked Weed is known for specializing in west coast style hoppy ales, open fermented Belgian beers, and barrel aged sour beers and they have won several medals across all of their styles. The company built a fourth facility last year that is entirely devoted to farmhouse, wild-fermented, and sour beers and have the first taproom on the East Coast dedicated to sours. All told, Wicked Weed produces over 150 different beers a year, has (or maybe had) a huge fanbase, and is arguably the top of the food chain in the craft beer kingdom of Asheville. You can imagine then, there was some backlash to this headline:
“Anheuser-Busch InBev to buy Wicked Weed Brewing”
The acquisition has split the online beer community into two very typical camps: “good for them it’s business and they deserve to make money” vs. “they sold out and betrayed the very fan base that brought them to where they are.” If the social media world is any indication, it would appear the “you sold out” camp is larger, or at least more vocal, at this point. For their part, the guys at Wicked Weed have been saying all the positive things you would expect in this situation. There is one quote that I read in a business insider article on the backlash of the sale that really stuck out to me; one I can’t stop thinking about. The quote, as said by one of the Wicked Weed founders Walt Dickinson, “there was a big fight to take market share 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 anymore, it’s not civil war here.”
I have a real strong reaction to that quote but first let me say this:
I don’t have a dog in this fight. I live in New Jersey and while I travel around specifically to try beers from breweries everywhere I can, I’m not even sure I’ve ever had a Wicked Weed beer. I think I tried their Pernicious IPA once and definitely had their Sweet Sunny South collaboration with Sierra Nevada, which I thought was fine. Point is, I’m not part of Wicked Weed’s giant fan base. Truthfully, the losses of Goose Island, Blue Point, and especially Elysian Brewing hurt me far more than InBev scooping up Wicked Weed. I remember the feeling when I read that InBev bought Elysian, so I completely understand the shade being thrown at the Wicked Weed guys. Here’s the thing though, there’s a stigma that comes with being a true craft beer drinker. You’re a nerd or a neckbeard or a beer snob or this or that. There’s typically very little positive in the portrayal of a craft beer guy/girl outside of the craft beer world. So, when a company like AB InBev takes time and throws lots of money during the Super Bowl, more than one year, to run ads openly mocking craft brewers and their fans, you’re kidding yourself if you think there isn’t a “big fight to take market share” or a “civil war.” There absolutely is a fight for market share and because you switched sides after being bought by the same company that spent money to disparage you, I guess you can bury your head in the sand and pretend there is no “civil war.” In reality, you’ve just decided to give up the fight, which is not nearly the same thing as there being no fight to begin with. Even AB InBev is aware of the fight for market share, and while they and MillerCoors still dominate, the craft beer industry is a threat. If the craft beer world wasn’t competition, the two giants wouldn’t be trying to buy them up.
Does Wicked Weed Brewing deserve to make a big money deal? Of course. Do co-founders Walt and Luke Dickinson deserve to do whatever they think is right to take care of themselves and their families, as well as their workers and their families? Without question. You don’t get to play both sides though. Wicked Weed is now a subsidiary of AB InBev and it’s disingenuous to continue to present yourself as a craft brewery who only cares about making beer for the people.
Here’s the bottom line for me personally: I’ve never been a supporter of Wicked Weed, since I’ve never been in the position to be, and now I never will be. No big loss for either of us on a personal level. This is however another shot from a major beer producer into the heart of the craft beer world. A shot in an apparent “non-existent civil war.” People are angry because it hurts when you think you’re all standing for something together and then suddenly the guys you’re supporting turn around and side with the very company spending time, money, and energy to openly mock and make fun of you. It’s the equivalent of the Nelson Muntz point and laugh. It’s important to add: this is just my opinion and who am I after all? Just some beer nerd writing on a blog.
**Wicked Weed Brewing still calls themselves a craft brewery so I’ve added a link to the Brewers Association definition of “craft brewery” so you can decide for yourself. https://www.brewersassociation.org/statistics/craft-brewer-defined/
** The link to the Business Insider article where Walt Dickinson’s quote was pulled: http://www.businessinsider.com/wicked-weed-founders-take-on-sell-out-criticism-2017-5
**Link to Beer Pulse site with the press release announcing the Wicked Weed acquisition and where I pulled the picture for the article: http://www.beerpulse.com/2017/05/anheuser-busch-inbev-to-acquire-asheville-nc-based-wicked-weed-brewing-5193/
**And lest anyone forget how AB InBev really feels about us and the breweries we support (keep in mind their newest family members the Dickinsons say there’s no war)….