Lagunitas Gives a Lotta Sumpin’ To Heineken

Earlier this month Lagunitas (in an effort to hold and expand market shares) sold majority shared to Heineken. Upon reading this, I braced myself, and then was not disappointed with the fusillade of angry beer fans raging on social media.

Some cried “sell out,” some decried the ignoble death of the storied brewery, while still others began the mournful countdown to when Lagunitas would start watering down their beer. None of this surprised me. In fact it was more of a hilarious over-reaction that I had seen many times before, and (yet again) didn’t fail to disappoint. 

The logo of Lagunitas Brewing Co.

Let me explain. Merging for market share has become “a thing” for craft beers in the past five years. A brewery will get big enough to where they’re pushing beer out around the local surrounding states, but not big enough to distribute nationally, and they get stuck. Couple this with the host of smaller breweries nipping at their heels, and medium breweries have to make a choice: sell out and get market share or circle the wagons and hope no young upstart knocks them down? Goose Island sold out. So did Blue Point. Both organizations did what they thought was best for the company and (from the evidence I can find for Goose Island) they seem to have made the wise choice with a huge uptick in sales, overall increase in quality (Goose Island now has a stand alone facility to take care of its barrel aged series!), and people trying their beer who never would have had the chance before!

Now believe me, I understand why people love to cry over sold out beer. For one, its an elitist thing. If Blue Point is MY beer, in MY hometown, and it sells out . . . why then its not special! Now everyone can try the beer that before only I could! A fine argument, though for the men and women who work at the brewery, I’m sure they agree that elitism doesn’t pay the bills! The second reason is more logical, and that’s the fear that the parent company just won’t “understand” its recent acquisition, and end up destroying it. This is the same rationale that made fans cry out that Mickey Mouse would soon invade both Marvel and the new Star Wars

Nightmare? Or salvation for a doomed franchise? Courtesy: The Guardian

Yet Mickey didn’t invade. Infact Marvel is doing much better today then it was in the late 90s/early 2000’s and it’s for the simple fact that Disney knew what it was doing: it was bank rolling Marvel’s creative force and letting what they already had shine out far and wide. The same logic applies to Blue Point’s merger, Goose Island’s merger, Lagunitas’ recent sale, and (I hope) Star Wars episode VII. In other words, InBev is a juggernaut of brewing. They have the incredible power to produce beer that tastes exactly the same anywhere in the world at all times. Why would a company that has such stringent control over it’s own process and ideology decide to up and change a winning recipe in Lagunitas’ cult and critic favoritism? Put another way: for better or worse corporations love making money. The only reason InBev and Heiniken snapped up craft guys is to make more money. And how do they make money? By enabling the craft guys to keep making amazing craft beer, except now producing it wide scale.

I mean hey, I get the appeal of the whole “rail against the man/establishment/whatever” thing. It feels good to be the underdog! But if we really loved our craft beer guys (and gals), wouldn’t we WANT them to be successful? To make more beer? To make it better, in more varieties, and never run out? Food (or drink, I guess) for thought. Let me know what you think in the comments and then follome here on Blogger, Twitter and Facebook for more beer ravings.