There has been a fair amount of hand-wringing as the partnership of Fordham Brewing and Anheuser-Busch prepares to close on its deal to buy Old Dominion Brewing.
That’s understandable. Change is not always good.
But what we should not be worrying about is the fact that Anheuser-Busch is involved in the deal.
Today The Long Tail has an interesting post about “Why niche brands win.” The key paragraph:
Consumers are fleeing the mainstream for the authenticity and quality of niche products. Today, when a big company buys a little one, it hopes that nobody notices. The aim is to keep the indie feel of the niche brand, while applying the distribution and marketing advantages of the big acquiring firm.
So A-B isn’t taking a stake in Old Dominion, which brews less than 30,000 barrels a year, to add to its production (more than 120 million barrels).
Have the beers of Widmer Brewing changed since A-B took a stake in the Oregon company? More recently, how about the beers of Goose Island (which A-B got involved with via Widmer)?
No, and no.
Small brewers – which is pretty much every brewery in America smaller than A-B, Miller and Coors – craft beers than large brewers can’t. OK, technically they can. But to brew a batch the size of Goose Island’s Matilda makes no sense to those guys. Heck, neither would the somewhat more mainstream Goose Island IPA (which Stonch just gave a rave review).
Granted, there was a time when such beers weren’t being produced. But as long as we are willing to pay a fair price I think it’s safe to say we’ve established our niche. It belongs to us, not the brewers. Not even the ones we really like.
That doesn’t mean drinkers of Old Dominion beers (or other outstanding beers it makes like New River Pale Ale) shouldn’t be vigilant. After all, A-B bought a stake in Widmer, not controlling interest. And Goose Island remains firmly in charge at Goose Island.
Old Dominion was sold, although Fordham has the (barely) largest stake. It seems that Fordham is who we should have our eye on.