Beer Voltron continues to grab new attachments and evolve in its capabilities. Over the last few years, Anheuser-Busch InBev has:
- Acquired 10 different American craft breweries to add to The High End portfolio — its faux craft beer umbrella.
- Taken stock in the homebrewing industry through its ZX Ventures group (a global incubator, operator and venture capital team backed by AB InBev), which acquired Northern Brewer Homebrew Supplies and sister company Midwest Supplies last year.
- Invested in media — websites like The Beer Necessities (entirely underwritten by AB InBev’s division, The High End) and October (a website collaboration with Good Beer Hunting, Condé Nast, Pitchfork, Beer Graphs, Stink Studios and ZX Ventures/AB’s ventures team).
Now, it’s being reported that AB InBev has taken a minority stake in RateBeer.com, one of the world’s most popular beer rating websites. Good Beer Hunting, a website that collaborates with and supports AB InBev, announced the news. And that news is quite old, according to the website:
But the deal isn’t exactly new. In fact, it closed this past October following eight months of talks. It went unannounced, however — to both the public and RateBeer stakeholders — because the two sides wanted to get “points on the board” to prove the value of the partnership without the “disruption” of making it public. Today, though, AB InBev confirmed to GBH that it has, in fact, invested in the website.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Speaking with GBH, though, ZX Ventures says that aligning with RateBeer enables it to gather a deeper and “more global” understanding of the beer industry at large.
Huh. Wonder how Good Beer Hunting got that scoop?
Yesterday, Sam Calagione, founder and CEO of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, took umbrage. He wrote a letter asking that his brands (ratings and mentions) be pulled from RateBeer.com. He seems to be worried that AB InBev is trying to control the media, pushing its agenda using an unethical brand of native advertising journalism, and he’s pretty much right. Here’s his letter:
Dogfish Head has been part of the RateBeer.com network for quite some time. In fact, we’re fans of almost all websites, magazines, newsletters and blogs that help educate the public and inspire the consumption of great beer; publications that are passionate about sharing the love for our vibrant craft brewing renaissance that is now gaining traction around the globe. For many years, RateBeer, along with entities like BeerAdvocate, All About Beer, Draft, Celebrator, Ale Street, Brewing News and many more have championed this burgeoning and blossoming craft beer community in ways that are consistent with journalistic integrity.
We were troubled by the announcement last week that ZX Ventures, which is fully owned by the global conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev, has purchased a portion of RateBeer. We believe this is a direct violation of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics and a blatant conflict of interest. The SPJ’s Code of Ethics includes a section called “Act Independently” and includes the following guidelines:
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
- Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
- Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.
It is our strong opinion that ABI’s ownership of RateBeer, and other properties positioned to cover the craft brewing community like October and thebeernecessities.com is in direct conflict with multiple guidelines listed above.
In the past, as executive editor of Pallet, a print magazine project that celebrated global craft beer culture, neither I nor Dogfish Head held any stake in the publication. As a company, Dogfish Head continually shows support for various craft beer publications through paid advertising campaigns.
To that end, we have respectfully asked Anheuser-Busch InBev and RateBeer to remove all Dogfish Head beer reviews and mentions on the RateBeer website immediately. It just doesn’t seem right for a brewer of any kind to be in a position to potentially manipulate what consumers are hearing and saying about beers, how they are rated and which ones are receiving extra publicity on what might appear to be a legitimate, 100 percent user-generated platform. It is our opinion that this initiative and others are ethically dubious and that the lack of transparency is troubling.
To our fellow independently-owned brewers, we encourage you to join us in this effort to ensure consumers continue to get the best and most accurate information about their beers. For everyone else, we encourage you to shift the sharing of your beer opinions and reviews to another platform that remains loyal to the principles of journalistic integrity. America’s Independence Day is just around the corner. Support the indie craft brewing movement!
For more information on the Society of Professional Journalism, please log on to their website: