In a time which has seen a number of surprising buyouts and partnerships within craft beer, Metropolitan State University in Denver is investing $3.6 million into their brewing program. These funds will help further MSU’s reputation that the school is on par with Siebel Institute in Chicago, or University of California, Davis as premier domestic brewing institutions. The funds will go toward updating 8k square feet in the Tivoli Center, bringing the tank farm from 6 to 30, 8 labs, and top of the line testing equipment to fill said labs. While many small breweries do not have access to this type of capital for their facilities, they will be able to bring in samples and use the equipment to help further their projects. As brewing continues to go from hobby to full time career for so many, Colorado is seeing this growth more than many other states. The program currently has 65 students enrolled, with countless others committing in the future. Currently, no brewers have been contracted to contribute or teach, but this should change by May 2018. Currently, the program has 11 faculty members to work with the future brewers. Students in MSU’s program learn to ferment and test brews, but they also learn non-chemistry skills like packaging and serving, installing a draft system and navigating alcoholic beverage law. The school listened when members of the industry shared they truly needed are students that understand the hospitality side of beer and the business side of beer, as well as the science coholic beverage law. Going back to school never seemed so good, especially when dorm life isn’t an issue.
Last week proved to have a deep effect on many craft beer fans, casual and hardcore. Two well known and beloved breweries exited the fold known as craft beer. The first blow was dealt early Wednesday morning. Wicked Weed had entered an agreement to sell their operation to AB-InBev. Social media posts came fast, and in many cases, were written by fans who were furious. “How could they do this?” and “Why would they join the evil empire?” These were some of the more polite things written. Many hard core beer fans seemed genuinely hurt by the announcement, some were absolutely beside themselves to think of WW selling out to the ‘Evil Empire.’ As breweries around the country released announcements they would cease to offer Wicked Weed bombers, or pour their beers from their taps ever again, the number of brewers that had planned on pouring at the Funkatorium Festival dwindled in record time. In reading a number of press releases from breweries around the country as to the reasons they would stop serving WW beers, the phrase “core values” was echoed repeatedly. While still fans of the people at Wicked Weed, many brewers felt obligated to share with their legions of fans that they simply could not do business with AB-InBev, a corporation who has been transparent in it’s desire to stifle the growth of craft brewers around the nation. In creating the ‘High End’ portfolio, AB-InBev made Wicked Weed their tenth craft brewery to be enveloped. Will the beer change? Unlikely. Will distribution shift? Undoubtably. A few years ago, a hop shortage threatened the fast growth of many small breweries. Hope growers met this challenge by growing more hops, and this year there is a surplus a hops on the market. Popular hops like Simcoe that were more valuable than gold to some are available in abundance according to many hop producers at this years Craft Brewers Conference. It is often said that true beer fans vote with their wallets, and while WW may feel the wrath of craft beer lovers domestically, the brewery may now see what the rest of the world feels about their plentiful portfolio on sour and funky beers. While they grew incredibly within the U.S. in just a few short years, the rest of the world will most likely be able to get their hands on beers like Pernicious in abundance.
The very next day, Thursday May 4, another shock sent ripples to beer geeks everywhere. Lagunitas sold the remaining 50% of their company to Heineken. The initial investment took place back in 2015, and at that time, there was not a clear plan laid out to purchase the remaining portion of the California powerhouse. For an unknown reason, or multitude reasons, beer loyalists didn’t hurl anger and frustration toward Tony Magee and the team at Lagunitas in nearly the volume they did to the folks at Wicked Weed. Was it the fact Heineken already had 50% of the company? Could it have been that the meteoric growth of the Petaluma based beer maker hinted at a buyout some time ago? Maybe beer loyalists only hate AB InBev and do not harbor the same disdain for other macro brewers. Either way, we have all heard that nothing will change, but deep down we know that is not true. By the pure nature of these deals, distribution channels will expand, there will never be lean times when needing materials, and the volume of production will increase. Those are all benefits of having the backing of a corporation with very deep pockets. I find myself on the fence, not because I consider myself the ‘King of Indecision,’ rather I remember the early days of both breweries. I was fortunate enough to drink Tony’s beers when he was in the small town of Lagunitas, well before the Undercover Shutdown and Chronic hadn’t been changed to protect the uber-uptight TTB. I’ve watched the Petaluma location turn into a circus. Literally. I also vividly recall a trip to Asheville many years ago, finding this bomber of Wicked Weed. Catchy name, I wasn’t even thinking of the historical relevance of the name in regards to brewing history. I tool a chance, and was quite glad I did. In opening a world class beer bar for the beer fans of Boulder and beyond, we had WW whenever we could get our hands on it. A reminder, back in the day it was rare to acquire it West of the Mississippi. The bottom line is that both companies will continue to make exceptional beer, and I will not waver in my complete adulation of the craft beer industry. I made a choice long ago this would be my career. In a career that has spanned more than two decades, things change. For me, my core values are still the same. Time will tell how others feel, but I wish Lagunitas and Wicked Weed the best of luck. Not that they need it, there are too many 0’s on those checks. This will spur many great things, and help motivated, passionate people to continue to push the envelope and open their own places. Places that make great beer, encourage collaboration, and stay true to their core values.
As an industry, we have been on a tear growing like a native weed. When the market share was barely in double digits, the Brewers Association rallied us with a quest for 20% market share by 2020. As with any rapid growth, there have been some consequences, but for the most part it has been a great trajectory. There have been some bumps in the road; some things that banded us together in strength and a few that have caused internal strife. A sign of being in an industry that is more than a job, but a career is its resiliency and ability to continue to grow by holding values in check. All these things add up to a healthy place where thinking outside the box is rewarded, not punished. Ideally, this freedom would allow people to continue to be creative with ideas not previously conceived. While most are doing their best to lead things into the unknown, there are a few sliding backwards into a place I had hoped was in the rearview; sexism. I have never understood the need for this in life, and most certainly not in an industry I hold in such high regard. While I cannot understand what it’s like to be affected directly from sexism as a man, I cannot condone this behavior from anyone. These actions do not benefit the industry, nor do they strengthen anyone’s position as we continue to fight other forces to keep craft brewing strong. Brewing has a long history, and women have played integral roles in its healthy growth. The initial undertones were surprising and elicited mutterings of “really, this is still happening?” Shortly after this years Craft Brewers Conference wrapped, the B.A. sent a message to the industry. USA Today then picked this up and wrote this piece. In 2016, craft brewers held various records, including the fact that 17% of CEO’s in craft beer were women. This is a good number that has room to grow. What is particularly poignant is the fact that the next closest percentage was 4.6% for all Fortune 500 companies. Another encouraging number is 21%. That is the percentage of female executives in craft brewing, 6.4% more than female executives in Fortune 500 companies.
One of the many great things about craft beer is the comradery. Sharing ideas, collaboration brews, welcoming new fans of beer alongside folks who have enjoyed beer for years are just a few of the things that rejuvenate us all to get up each morning and heft bags of grain and mash out at the end of a long day. I know many strong, passionate, creative women in brewing who have taught me so much about life, as well as beer and brewing. Let’s not forget to be welcoming to people within our great field. After all, the idea is to grow craft beer; not to slip backwards to a darker time where things weren’t as positive and convivial. Cheers to continued successes and growth, and more places where all are welcome and feel welcome to enjoy the affirmative fruits of our labor.
This year’s Collaboration Fest saw more brewers, and a new venue. The National Western Complex served as the site for this years festival. There was a lot of beer. In total, there were 112 collaborations from 188 different breweries in Colorado and nationwide. Some growing pains were evident in the new space, but overall, it was a wonderful day. Wild Goose had a couple of beers being poured from two collaborations. The first was a Cream Ale with birch bark, brewed with Aaron at BJ’s in Boulder. The second was a sweet red ale, aged on French oak chips that had been soaked in three separate Colorado spirits; Spirit Hound whiskey, Jackelope gin, and Dancing Pines spiced rum. This beer was brewed with Bard at El Rancho in Evergreen. There were designated pourers this year, so we were able to mingle with the crowd instead of standing behind our jockey box the entire time. One of the wonderful things about this festival is the camaraderie, and it was evident as soon as you stepped inside. Good times, great friends, and lots of brainstorming remind me why I love this industry so much. Looking forward to next year!!