Just last week, all seemed well on Wicked Weed Brewery’s Facebook page.
Sales of tickets to a charitable event at the Wicked Weed Funkatorium, (“live music, over 70 breweries, food selections from 8 Regional chefs, plus much more!”) seemed to be picking up.
The Asheville brewery basked in the glory of being named the best craft brewery in North Carolina by “the awesome people at Thrillist” and the best in the 17-state South by Southern Living magazine. The brewery, after all, was beloved by many in the South, where the rise of craft breweries lags behind the rest of the country. To many, Wicked Weed was proof the South could compete with the coasts.
And then, on Wednesday, Wicked Weed posted this announcement:
Just over four years ago, we started out with a simple idea: make great beer. From west-coast IPAs, to barrel-aged sours, we’ve been able to create world-class ales in a city that we love. We’ve grown from a small Brewpub with 60 employees, to a company with 4 locations and over 200 employees. In order to innovate, push the boundaries, and grow, we’ve decided to take on the High End branch of Anheuser-Busch as a strategic partner.
Translation: Wicked Weed sold out to a Big Brewery.
And not just any big brewery. To Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev), the maker of Bud, the most despised brand in the world to craft beer aficionados not only for what passes as its flavor but for mocking craft beer aficionados in two successive Super Bowl ads.
One of the ads, titled “brewed the hard way” (which seems to imply craft brewers take an easier route when working with less money and equipment) states in bold all-capital letters “It’s not brewed to be fussed over.”
“The people who drink our beer like to drink beer brewed the hard way,” it stated, adding, “Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.”
Wicked Weed brews both pumpkin and peach beers, such as its Peach Habanero Saison and its Pumpkin Up The Volume.
The ads were likely a reaction to the rise of craft breweries — more than 3,000 opened since 2012, putting the number of craft breweries at 5,234 of the country’s 5,301 breweries.
Budweiser VP Brian Perkins defended the spot to Ad Age, saying, “occasionally we do have a little bit of fun with some of the overwrought pretentiousness that exists in some small corners of the beer landscape that is around beer snobbery,” which he called “the antithesis of what Budweiser is all about.”
Reactions to the sale of were swift and furious.
Several companies announced they won’t be selling Wicked Weed beers any longer, nor will they be working with the company.
“We will be tapping all of our Wicked Weed kegs as soon as taps free up starting now and donating 100% of the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders,” Brawley’s Beverage, a South Carolina beer retailer wrote on Facebook. “We will no longer sell Wicked Weed. Best of luck to the people we have gotten to know at Wicked Weed.”
Black Project brewery, which was in the middle of two collaborations with Wicked Weed, announced that it will cease its relationship due to the sale, citing AB InBev’s “business strategies, mission, and overall ethics.”
“In Denver alone, we’ve seen several instances of highly aggressive, predatory, and what we consider to be unethical practices,” the company wrote on its blog. “We truly believe that AB InBev intends to systematically destroy American craft beer as we know it.”
Indeed, when it comes to buying craft brewers, AB InBev has been the “most aggressive” of the Big Beer makers, according to Fortune. The company has purchased such popular craft breweries as Goose Island, Breckenridge Brewery, Blue Point, Golden Road, Four Peaks and Devils Backbone.
Many of the brewery’s fans expressed disappointment on its Facebook page.
“Your cowardly embrace of the enemy of craft brewing has made my birthday dinner the other night the last time I will be patronizing your business,” wrote one. “If I had known this treachery was in the works I would have picked a more reputable establishment.”
“Sold your soul for cash, thankfully there is enough competition to avoid you completely. thanks for the beers, good riddance,” wrote another.
“I don’t fault craft owners when they sell out, but I refuse to spend money that further enriches A-B. I’d rather support the true small breweries. I love Wicked Weed, but you won’t be getting anymore $ from me,” wrote a third.
Wicked Weed co-founder Walt Dickinson, though, said the move was a strategic way to remain competitive in an increasingly saturated market and fans should not worry — he isn’t.
“If we see a small dip in the immediate future, I’m comfortable with that, because I feel like a week from now, a month from now, a year from now, they’re going to come back and realize the beer hasn’t changed, it’s gotten better,” Dickinson told the Asheville Citizen-Times. “I think we make some of the best beers in the region, and we do so consistently and we get great support. At the end of the day, great beer will win.”
He was backed by Chris Cox, who co-founded Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing, which was eventually acquired by AB InBev. Cox said all the acquisition did was provide the brewery access to better ingredients and more distribution.
“We still run our company, we still make all our own decisions, we still brew our own beer, and we’re still there every single day with our team,” he said.