The Wide World of Beer with Stephen Beaumont: Drinking in Thoroughly Modern London

During the latter part of his enormously successful career, the late Michael Jackson, beer writer extraordinaire, employed an assistant named Owen Barstow.Like Michael, Owen was London based and beer fixated, which on one memorable occasion led to he and I enjoying a rollicking discussion about drinking on each of our respective sides of the Atlantic.

Ever the aspirating colonial, I would maintain that Owen lived in a relative beer nirvana, with a wealth of pubs and, providing you chose carefully, terrific cask-conditioned best bitters, ESBs, porters, and stronger beers at his doorstep. Conversely, he would envy the variety we had available in North America, from American-style pale ales to Belgian lambics, German and German-inspired lagers, and the best of British bottled beers.

While I still envied London’s pub scene, I could see Owen’s point. I mean, cask ales are great and all, but sometimes you crave a bit of variety. And in London around the turn of the millennium, that wasn’t something generally on offer at the local pub.

(Read more at The Growler.)

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Dear Brewery with the ‘SOLD’ Sign: Cut the Crap!

Over the last several years, there has been a marked rise in the number of breweries that have sold to the world’s largest corporate brewers. Anheuser-Busch InBev has bought several, not just in the United States but also more lately in Brazil. MolsonCoors has purchased a few in Canada and the U.K. and, through their Tenth & Blake division, the odd brewery mash-up that is MillerCoors has to date bought one cider producer and one brewery.

Of course, the big deal that everyone is talking about happened last week when Heineken finally decided to enter the fray and bought half of Petaluma, California’s Lagunitas Brewing Company. In his blog post explaining the deal, Lagunitas head Tony Magee wrote the following:

“Our new Joint Venture with Heineken is that ’sixth way’. It represents a mutual respect society, a meeting of equals, a partnership of peers.”

Two days later, when the southern California Saint Archer Brewing Company announced their sale to Tenth and Blake, brewery co-founder and president Josh Landan was quoted thusly:

“We were fortunate that brewers big and small were interested in partnering with us, but Tenth and Blake was the clear choice. Tenth and Blake shares our passion for putting great beer first. Joining Tenth and Blake allows us to keep doing what we love right here in San Diego, but now with more resources to innovate and grow.

To which I reply: Bullshit!

Look, I get it that when you build a small business into a larger one you have a corresponding rise in responsibilities. I understand that there are employees to consider, investors to pay out, maybe bank loans to finance. I know personally about the sacrifice and strife involved in being an entrepreneur for 25 or more years, grinding away and hoping that others will share your vision sufficiently that your business might turn into a success. And I appreciate that many long-time brewery owners may not have a succession plan in place.

Hell, I even understand pure avarice of the “they backed up a dump truck full of money” variety.

But when your company’s entire marketing strategy has for years been based upon the premise of “small is good, big is evil,” do you honestly think it reasonable to suddenly turn on a dime and tell us otherwise? After imploring us to “buy local” for decades, does it really make sense to expect us to abruptly opt for “international” instead? Do you really believe that the joining of a small brewery – and let’s face it, everything in craft brewing is tiny relative to the big international brewers! – with a multi-billion dollar company can ever be anything even approaching a “meeting of equals”? Do  you truly think that the massive corporate structure to which you have just made your sale really “shares the passion” that led you into craft brewing in the first place?

If you want to sell your company, fine. If you want to make certain that your employees are well looked after once you retire or pass from this mortal coil, good for you. If you feel a need to pay out your founding investors so that they finally get something out of the business other than free beer, that’s responsible business management. And if you just want to be able to just take things a little easier, fly first class, stay in the best hotels and smoke only what Snoop Dog smokes, that’s cool, too.

Just please don’t insult my intelligence by telling me it’s all for my own good.