Beavertown – why it’s not all fun playing with the big boys

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Drinks: Drinks
Location: UK
Other: Business

 

I see Beavertown are catching some flak lately. What’s the beef?

Not so much beef as minority stake – the one they sold to Heineken for £40 million.

Heineken? Sol, Amstel, Red Stripe – that Heineken? Doesn’t sound very ‘craft’…

Yup. They’ve got form for this kind of thing. They snapped up 50% of Lagunitas in 2015 before buying it outright last year. And 2017 also saw them bag a share in London-based Brixton Brewery.

Is this part of a wider trend?

The dominant ‘big beer’ corporations have been circling the burgeoning craft scene and making choice acquisitions for several years. Camden Town Brewery sold to AbInBev for an estimated £85m in 2015. Greenwich-based Meantime is now owned by Asahi after originally selling to SAB Miller, and Hackney’s London Fields was bought by Carlsberg last year.

So, we’re going to be seeing a lot more Beavertown beer then?

Ten times more! Six years ago, Beavertown boss Logan Plant was brewing 25-litre batches in his kitchen in a rice pan. Fast forward to 2019 and he’ll be helming a 125,000 square-foot ‘world class’ destination brewery, pushing out 450,000hl a year. UK-wide ‘Beaver Bars’ are in the works, too.

And the problem is? Bigger is better, growth is good, right?

Logan describes this as an ‘arms length’ deal – he gets to stay in control. Plus – there’s 150 new jobs in the pipeline. The flip-side is that modern breweries like Beavertown have set out their stall as rogue upstarts challenging the market domination of big beer. The craft beer community has brought into the independent spirit so, to some, selling to Heineken feels like a smack in the chops.

But in the long run, surely this is ‘cheers’ all round for the craft scene?

You can look it a couple of ways – a bigger, shinier platform to shout from introduces more drinkers to ‘entry level’ craft beer, and the trickle down ultimately benefits smaller, more experimental, independent breweries. But at the same time, while Beavertown was previously seen as a colleague and collaborator by the craft beer community, they’ll now be viewed as a competitor. Last year, Logan spoke about his dream of getting quality craft beer on every street corner in the UK. The rhetoric has shifted a little this week – now it’s his beer on every street corner. Certainly in the States, big beer acquisitions have led to indies being displaced.

£40m though! You can hardly blame him.

Except there’s that key note speech Logan gave at last year’s Beaverex beer festival, where he lambasted the ‘megalomaniac, monolithic goliaths of big beer’ and their ‘industrialised, crap yellow, fizzy shite.’ Plus….

Go on…

Heineken has been called out by Manchester’s Cloudwater Brew Co over some ‘disturbing corporate tactics’, including breaching competition regulations, human rights failures and tax evasion.

Ouchy.

Indeed. Bottle shops such as the award-winning Hop Burns & Black reacted by delisting Beavertown. Hereford Beer House took the same stance, despite Beavertown making up 10% of sales, with the owner branding them ‘hypocrites’. On Twitter, the Beer O’Clock Show’s flash poll offered a snapshot of the feeling among craft beer drinkers – a third of their respondents are abandoning Beavertown altogether.

Where does all this leave Beaverex ’18?

Team Beaver is adamant the show will go on, but there’s a growing list of breweries who’ve pulled out of the event – Cloudwater, Brew by Numbers, Modern Times (“you don’t get to play this game on ‘easy’ mode & still benefit from the hard work of indy brewers”), Brewdog, Evil Twin and Pen Druid. US brewery The Veil caught wind of the buyout rumour weeks before it was announced and bailed while the deal was still but a twinkle in Logan’s eye. Also there’s a growing clamour from the craft beer faithful for ticket refunds.

See you at the bar?

Sure thing. Just don’t ask for a pint of Beaverken. It’s not funny.

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