Being bought by AB InBev is likely to give Wicked Weed better ingredients and distribution
Will this craft brewer’s new owner raise the bar?
Belgian drinks behemoth AB InBev, whose brands include Budweiser and Stella Artois, announced recently that it had come to an agreement to purchase Wicked Weed, a tiny craft brewer in Asheville, NC. Known for its sour ales, barrel-aged imperial stouts and IPAs, the four-year-old brewery has an ardent cult following.
Now they’re pissed about this acquisition. Brawley’s Brewery, a Charlotte beer hall, said that it was donating proceeds from remaining Wicked Weed sales and not restocking the label. The North Carolina Craft Brewers Guild stripped Wicked Weed of its voting rights. Tweets mockingly predicting that the brewery would soon be retailing Bud Light were representative of the mood.
Can't wait to sit by the outdoor fire pit at Wicked Weed in Asheville and sip a Bud Light Lime
— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) May 3, 2017
But they may have taken it too far: Working with the beer giant will give the brewery access to better ingredients. “We want people to know that beer can be sophisticated,” says Walt Dickinson, Wicked Weed co-founder. “It belongs with high-end-wine and liquor.” And, once the deal closes, Wicked Weed will invest in brewing equipment and training for its staff.
Our most recent barrel-aged Belgian Ale, Arcanic, features currants, plums, and Belgian Candy sugar. Foeder-aged for 6 months, this big Belgian features a nice balance of red wine and deep fruit flavor. This hit distro starting this week, so keep an eye out for this one. #WickedWeed #Arcanic #Asheville #AVLBeer
If past craft brew acquisitions are any indication, this could mean more consumers get to try the beer. When Heineken bought a 50% stake—and later assumed full control—of California craft brewer Lagunitas in 2015, production grew to 1 million hectoliters the following year. Beer snobs lamented the move them too, yet many of them kept right on drinking it.
Still, there may be bumps in the road. Wicked Weed’s die-hard fans dislike the business practices of AB InBev, owner of craft beer brands Goose Island and Blue Point. In recent years, Goose Island issued at least two rounds of refunds for its stout beers after contamination by a bacterial strain. “This was never an issue before [AB InBev] took over,” says Matt Simpson, owner of the Beer Sommelier Consultancy. “Nobody is a better steward of craft beer than craft beer owners.”
Some also worry that the purchase of a tiny brewery is an “acquihire,” and that AB InBev will shut down Wicked Weed and deploy its talent elsewhere. It’s magnified by how the brewing behemoth shut down Boddingtons, a much-beloved British brewery that has been around since the 18th century.
But Dickinson says the only plans are for expansion. “I’d be disappointed if people didn’t care, but we’ll win [doubters] back. It’s the same beer made by the same people.”
© 2017 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved