Independent, American craft breweries continue to sell their companies to global beverage rollups like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, Constellation and beyond. For fans and owners of small breweries, every sale feels like the big guys are gaining more leverage. In response, associations, guilds and even festivals are beginning to ostracize craft brewing businesses that “sell out” to “Big Beer.” Our pal, Marty Jones (beer scribe, insider and singer) imagines a scenario in which multi-nation, investor-run beer conglomerates take matters into their own hands and host their own brewing conference.
Is it really such a crazy thought?
Sit back. Let us take you to a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s beer fears and the summit of his beery knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an event we call the Former Craft Brewers Conference.
This year Philadelphia hosted two of the nation’s most important conventions. But on the heels of the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference and the Democratic National Convention, the City of Brotherly Love hosted a third conference that could have an even greater impact in the U.S. and beyond.
You didn’t hear about the second annual Former Craft Brewers Conference? While it didn’t involve as much beer tasting as the CBC, it blew away the DNC when it came to heavy funding and influence peddling. Put on by the planet’s largest and deepest-pocketed breweries, it catered to a growing group of nouveau-rich beer makers who’ve jumped from independent owners to corporately owned.
The FCBC was worlds away from the CBC and the DNC. For starters, the FCBC lacked the “Let’s work together for the collective good” vibe heralded by Hillary Clinton and Charlie Papazian at their respective gatherings. At times the FCBC resembled the Republican National Convention in Cleveland: Shouts of “Lock them out! Lock them out” roared from the crowd whenever indie, Brewers Association-sanctioned brewers were mentioned. Drumpf would have loved it.
There were other tense moments. At their opening ceremony, FCBC attendees were met by angry beer nuts in faded Elysian and Goose Island T-shirts and almost-new mechanic’s shirts from Golden Road, Saint Archer, Terrapin and other fresh FCBs. To bullhorn-amplified shouts of “Don’t Tread on My Craft Beer,” the group protested the co-opting of their beloved breweries. This all-malt mob then conducted its version of the Boston Tea Party by emptying kegs of former craft beer into the Delaware River before marching to the Rocky Balboa statue.
While baseball wizard Billy Beane roused craft brewers with his keynote address and the Clintons and Obamas inspired the Dems, the FCBC took a different tack on its first day. Under a massive back-lit, gold-leaf sign proclaiming “Beer Too Big to Fail,” global conglomerate beer execs in Colonial-style suits from Gucci roused their constituents with a full-throated reading of their new Declaration of Big Beer Dependence. From there, the event foused on ignoring IBUs and unfiltered IPAs to focus on ROI and unfettered domination of U.S. beer shelves.
To say the least, FCBC seminars were fascinating. Back from last year were the “Cheaper Ingredients, Better Beer” and “Micro brewing in 500-Barrel Batches” classes. “Handcrafting Your Local Beer in a Giant Mechanized Brewery Several States Away” was also informative for ex-crafters.
On the marketing side, the new “Bought the Hard Way” seminar was packed and “How to Break Up Your Local Brewers Guild” and the “Why ‘Craft’ is a Meaningless Term” included timely divide-and-conquer info for former craft brewers. “Brewery Collaborations” drew a large audience and detailed the upcoming SAB/Miller/Molson/ Coors/AB/Inbev merger. (ABI distributors were given “voluntary” cash incentives for attending this one.)
A well-attended “Walking it Back” course hipped once-ardent craft brewers on how to recant every bad thing they ever said about Big Beer in their previous careers. A counseling session — “What If My Brewery Sells Out and Beer Geeks Don’t Care?” — attracted similarly stressed FCBs whose sellouts to Big Beer didn’t light up the forums at Beer Advocate.
While the DNC closed with a downpour of balloons and the CBC ended with its World Beer Cup, the FCBC drew to a close that encapsulated the event’s purpose. A 200-member choir (imported from Belgium) led the crowd in a rousing singalong of a revised “God Bless America” that paid tribute to ABI’s renaming campaign for Budweiser. Rumor has it that as the song reached its finale, the Liberty Bell a few blocks away developed a second crack.
Marty Jones is longtime evangelist, publicist and status quo smasher for craft beer. His creative ideas, promo efforts and questionable jokes have played a key role in the success of some of the top beer endeavors in Colorado and the United States. Follow him on Twitter @martyjonesinc.