An excellent bit of analogistastic writing by Oliver this morning:
This isn’t a war, per se, but rather modern political posturing and postulating. “Big vs Craft” is more like a campaign for the presidency of beer, a trading of legal and social blows to rise to the top and occupy the position of leader of the brewing free world (if we kindly ignore China and Snow, for now). Look at the tactics. Buying a competition brewery? Redrawing the lines of your portfolio to overlap your competition, and include certain consumers to better your business. Offering incentive programs to distributors to only carry your brands? Redrawing the literal lines of what beers are on the shelves, to better position yourself to improve your company’s standing. It’s financial and economic gerrymandering, being done in the face of an opposition party that is winning by more traditional measures.
I don't fully agree as, like most people, I do not care about the idea of craft "winning" as if the dreams of a dipso hobbyist could serve as rules guiding the progress of an industry. But I love the construct. It sorta came up in the blog's Facebook discussion this week in which Mitch Steel of Stone was comparing the current acquisitions with those in the 1990s. I suggested that the 1990s scenario was a bit different now, even as both big craft and big beer fumble the marketing messages (as in the "crafty" flop as well as some of the Bud TV ads) I see a more meaningful shift that works well in an analogy to politics. I can buy Blue Point Toasted Lager at a middle market pub a walk from my house here in a small Canadian city. It sits next to a Goose Island tap along with the rest of the Canadian standard ABInBevLabatt line up. On a Sunday night with friends a few weeks ago, we were out watching the Grey Cup. People at our table happily chose one or the other sort of beer - if they were even different "sorts" to them. They liked what they liked so Shock Top sat next to Guinness at the table along side my Blue Point. This was big raft politics. Inclusive even if set at a rather large scale. Dollars as votes.
To my eye, in 2015 big brewing firms set out towards the goal of achieving a sort of parity between their big macro and craft products. A grand coalition. Craft acquisitions harmonize well with the very attractive "Made in America" recent Bud TV ads. Consultants and communicators who have thrown their lot in with the big craft sector will have trouble with this aspect of the future. Ideologues in, what is now oddly called at least here in Canada, short pants. But I suppose you have to dance with the one who brought you, don't you. But its a very unsatisfying view of the future. Prejudged. Nothing worse than a politician who approaches an issue with a closed mind. I don't accept that vision. Things are moving in another direction. And, on the one hand, it is clear that the market isn't shifting because many people want to hover over glasses of small batch beer making strained precious small talk. The market is shifting because big craft has taught big beer how to pretend to brew small batch beer. On the other hand, people like what that like, like to be spoken to as it their choices are worthy and like how diversifying the line up allows big beer to present itself as open and welcoming. The body politic want this. The electors are voting for what they want.
The "craft" monologue misses all that, misses the point that people like to enjoy themselves and each other when out and about. I was out again last night twice in a month is a bit odd for me. I had two fairly local Big Rig IPAs, a fairly local Beau's Lugtread as well as a final fairly macro Guinness over the course of four or five hours at the Iron Duke. It was a great time. I shared a few well placed work tidbits, listened to stories about military work in the Balkans in the 1990s and tried to give avuncular advise to a person moving to my old home town to take a big step up in his career. The man moving on in life drank Labatt 50. I took a gulp from one of his gathering gifted farewell pints when he briefly stepped away. Light and a bit jaggeddy around the hopping but in the depolarized context of a friendly gathering - as opposed to, what, a rally for "craft"? - it was fine enough. I still prefer mine with Clamato come the morning after.
Will the craft dialogue ever grow up to meet the challenges of the political construct? Will it stop being so needy as to suggest that an honest review of a bad junkety event "helps to make the case for bloggers and writers attending this kind of PR event"? I don't know. But the talking heads may have no choice if big beer is actually finding that sweet spot by making people happy with a peaceful accord between macro and micro through presenting greater and greater beer taps diversity. Smug is of no interest to anyone. The false and forced and failed approach that gave us the boring "crafty" stupidity is dying. As it should given we know that there simply aren't the hops or malt to support the 20% craft in 2020 fantasy. There may be no choice. Resource allocation? Speaking to actual demand? These are the nuts and bolts of any political discourse.
Yes, Oliver's analogy to shifting political boundaries on the beer shelf is very helpful. ABInBevLabatt and their sort will continue to make its money and will likely continue to adapt as needs be to do so. Fight that? Fight marketplace reality. You can think of that fight a Randian approach to the politics of craft: (i) start with an outlandish and utterly unworkable victim-based political theory and, then, (ii) go on and on about it until no one cares. The sort of theory that can suggest with a straight face that craft brewers are not interested in the profit making aspects of their business. I work in an actual political construct. The great thing about politics in a democracy is how it expresses and copes with choice and diversity. Politics is the art of knowing how things are and adapting to achieve ends. The art of the possible. Randian craft isn't possible.
In 2016 as more and more big craft sells out to big beer, organized independent craft will need to catch up with the politics of adapting to market demand, catch up with big beer if it wants to avoid being a blip in history. And it might take as brazen an approach as big beer took in 2015. Not sure craft has what it takes.