On Wednesday, May 3, Wicked Weed announced their sale to Anheuser-Busch InBev. In the days following, many voices have been heard, some supporting and congratulating the Wicked Weed team, while the majority scorning the brewery for allowing themselves to be another pawn in AB InBev’s ploy to rid the world of independent craft beer.
Before we posted an official response, we wanted to listen, hear what our customers were saying, and consider what this acquisition means to us, a small, independently-owned craft beer store and bar.
First of all, I will give you our opinion on the matter (since, well, everyone else is giving theirs). Wicked Weed is an excellent brewery that has many excellent people on their team, several of whom Katy and I call friends. As business owners ourselves, we absolutely respect another business’ right to sell their company if the time and the price is right. Succession planning is a very difficult thing for small businesses to handle, and few do it well. By accepting a (supposedly quite large) payout from the largest player in the beer market, Wicked Weed was able to secure wealth for their ownership and their families, and secure new benefits and relative stability for their staff. This is all good.
But there is a bad side to this story, and there are reasons people are upset by this buyout.
AB InBev has a prominent track record of acting in contrast to the best interests of craft breweries across the country. ABI knows that craft beer is responsible for the declining sales of macro beer, such as Budweiser, so they are doing everything they can to secure their shelf and tap space. This includes ethically-questionable deals with distributors and retailers in some states. It also includes creating labels that appear to be craft, but are actually brewed in their giant multi-national facilities. And, it certainly includes the now 10 craft breweries they have purchased since 2011.
AB-InBev is fighting against craft beer, using their money and influence to steer legislation that would harm craft breweries or create an unfair advantage for larger breweries. (the NC House Republican Caucus was one of the largest recipients of contributions by AB InBev in the 2016 cycle), and dropping big money on Super Bowl ads that portray craft beer drinkers as wimpy, nerdy, hipsters.
The other major issue is that moving forward, when purchasing Wicked Weed products, a lot less of your money is staying in the local economy. Part of your purchase is going overseas to a Belgian corporation (AB InBev). This is contrary to one of the core things that craft beer is about - supporting local businesses and growing the local economy.
Many of you have asked if we’re going to stop carrying Wicked Weed products at The Glass Jug. Others have asked if we’re going to throw away or pour out the Wicked Weed beer currently on the shelves. And, we have to admit, in our initial shock and anger, we have seriously considered these options.
However, it is worthy to note that the Wicked Weed products currently on our shelves were sold to The Glass Jug by a then-independent North Carolina craft brewery known for making excellent beer. If we were to throw out the product already on our shelves, the only people that would negatively financially impact would be Katy and me. Sure, maybe it would send a message, and we’d get a round of applause for the decision, but it would not cause anything to change when it comes to the acquisition.
If anyone feels so inclined, you are absolutely welcome to come purchase some Wicked Weed bottles and then throw them out in protest.
The more pertinent question is whether or not we will continue to purchase Wicked Weed beer, moving forward.
This question has come up a few times with other breweries that were bought out since we opened our doors in 2014, so this is a question Katy and I have discussed on many occasions. However, this time it certainly seems to hit a bit closer to home.
If you take a close look at the products on the shelves at The Glass Jug, you will see that we still carry some Lagunitas beers (who was recently purchased by Heineken), we also still stock a few offerings from Ballast Point (recently purchased by Constellation Brands for $1 billion). Additionally, you will occasionally see Elysian Space Dust or Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager on our shelves (both owned by AB-InBev). Lastly, we do carry Goose Island (also owned by AB InBev) year-round, as this allows us to bring you more of their Bourbon County every fall - a beer that, while brewed by a macro brewery, still results in a line that wraps around our building every year on Black Friday.
What you may not notice is that we rarely ever do events with these breweries...and we do a lot of events. We have tap takeovers, cask events, and/or free tastings every week, and we use these opportunities to showcase mostly local craft breweries whose beer we think you should try.
We also limit how many of their beers we carry. If you compare the number of different beers from these breweries to the number of brands we carry by breweries such as Haw River Farmhouse Ales or Burial Beer Co. or Four Saints Brewing or Durty Bull or Steel String or any of the other awesome local craft breweries, you’ll find that we have a much larger selection from each of the real craft breweries.
So, that means what you’ll see from us is a shrinking selection of Wicked Weed beers. We will treat them the same as the other formerly-craft breweries who are now owned by a mega corporation.
If you’re a fan of Wicked Weed beer and want to continue to purchase it, you will be able to do so at The Glass Jug without judgment from us or our staff. You’ll still be buying beer at a place where you know some of your money is going to a local independently-owned retail store and bar. We won’t force you to go buy your Wicked Weed from Wal-Mart or other mega corporations, where even less of your money will stay local.
However, we will start letting some of the various Wicked Weed beers begin to go out of stock from our shelves, as we give that shelf space to other great craft breweries.
If you’re looking for an alternative to your favorite Wicked Weed beer, just ask a bartender at The Glass Jug to make a recommendation. Here are a few good options, but these are by no means your only options:
Instead of Pernicious or Lieutenant Dank, try one of Foothills Brewery’s “Craft Happiness” IPAs and know that some of your money is also going to support a charitable cause.
Instead of one of the many Wicked Weed barrel-aged and fruited sours, try one of the sours from D9 Brewery (Cornelius, NC), Steel String (Carrboro, NC), Durty Bull (Durham, NC), or Hi-Wire (Asheville, NC).
Or, keep drinking Wicked Weed. It’s beer. It’s up to you to spend your money how you want to spend it. We’re here to give you the options and make sure our customer base is educated and know where their money goes. Regardless, your money will go to help us grow, support our amazing staff, and put money back in the local economy.
Chris Creech Co-Owner / The Glass Jug