Opinion: Big Beer Is Your Friend

This piece is written as a part of our Opinions series. A series where writers come to express their opinions of what is going on in the craft beer industry. Breweries in PA may not always agree with the contributor, but that doesn’t mean we won’t give them a voice to share their views in an effort to inspire discussion on craft beer.

Written by Breweries In PA Contributor James Sites

Yes, you heard it here first. Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors are actually good for the craft beer consumer. “How can that be possible? We’ve been told by everyone that Big Beer is bad for us.” Well, hold onto your hats, ladies and gents, we’re about to blow the roof off of this myth.

First of all, think about who told you that Big Beer is bad. If I’m right, and I usually am, it was the owner of a small, local craft brewery and they probably heard it from the owner of a large regional or national one. Why do you think that those Big Craft owners would be telling people something like that? Well, I think that it’s obvious, Big Beer, the “crafty” beer that they make, and the craft breweries that they’ve bought are all cutting into the profits of those breweries. If that was you, you’d be mad, too. Hell, if it was me, so would I.

Shelf and tap space are at a premium these days and consumers are inundated with new options month in and month out. How can they possibly keep up with it all? The answer is that they probably won’t, and they will purchase that which is most familiar to them in an effort to avoid choice paralysis. Most people don’t know who is owned by whom and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t care. The problem when it comes to determining ownership is that once you look down the rabbit hole, you find out that it is pretty deep. Not only do you have to determine who owns the brewery, but you have to find out their policies and what actions that they’ve taken against their competitors. It’s exhausting. Way above the level of interest of any casual beer lover and probably above that of most self-proclaimed beer nerds.    

Here’s where the road gets even more curvy. Big Beer is doing something that larger craft breweries don’t like. They are pricing their craft beer at reasonable prices. Prices that are usually less than what “independent” craft breweries are pricing similar products. That, in my opinion, is good for the craft beer consumer for two main reasons. The first is that you can drink that quality craft beer for less. Big Beer owned craft breweries make high quality beer. Don’t for a second think that they don’t. The second, however, is more important than that. It is that by those Big Beer owned breweries pricing their products as they do, your favorite craft breweries will have to keep their prices close to them in order to remain competitive. That benefits the consumer, because if left to their own devices, many craft breweries would charge their consumers much more for their products without a commensurate increase in quality.

“But doesn’t Big Beer lobby against craft breweries?” In some instances, this is certainly the case, but I have yet to read about any craft brewery not opening because of a law that was passed with the help of Big Beer, nor have I read about any brewery closing because of them. The majority of the issue with the unfair business practices happening in the beer world, like pay for play, happens at the distributor level, and the second tier of the wonderful three-tiered system isn’t as closely regulated as one would think. It’s not quite the Wild, Wild West, but it’s close. To say that it needs more closely investigated is the understatement of the century.

Let’s take a step back, though, and talk about your small, local brewery owner friend who told you this in the first place. They don’t have a dog in this race. Plain and simple. The majority of small, local breweries sell most of their beer out of their doors and the small amount that is sold outside of their taproom is self-distributed. They’re just not playing the same game as Big Beer and Big Craft are. If you like these places, you probably didn’t develop a like for them because you saw their beer on the shelves at your distributor and decided to give them a whirl. No, you went to the brewery itself, had some tacos or pierogis from the food truck outside, had a couple pints of beer, and left with a growler of your favorite one.

The success of these breweries doesn’t hinge on widespread market identity. It hinges on the vibe of their taproom and whether or not they have cans or crowlers available. Big Beer isn’t looking to enter into this segment of the marketplace, but there are other things that Big Beer does for local areas that are good, too. Big Beer does things like gives water to charity for hurricane relief and provides safe work environments for their well-compensated employees, but those are topics for other columns, just like the “independent” seal is that the Brewer’s Association is using these days.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not, for a second saying that everything that Big Beer does is good. It’s not. What I am saying is that there is some good within Big Beer. Just don’t start thinking that this is a “Good vs. Evil”, “Us vs. Them”, type of argument, because it isn’t. Unless you have a financial stake in a regional or national level craft brewery, Big Beer is your friend. They are keeping prices low and availability and quality high. If those aren’t things that you’re interested in, then I don’t know what else to tell you.

In the end, Big Beer has been involved in craft beer for longer than the majority of craft breweries have. Look up the Craft Brew Alliance, if you don’t believe me. They have no interest in seeing independent craft breweries close, they simply want a bigger share of the only growing market in beer and want to help it grow even more.

How is that a bad thing?

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