That’s the message Brewers Association CEO Bob Pease hammered home to thousands of brewers attending the first general session of the 2017 Craft Brewers Conference this morning.
In his opening remarks, Pease accused the “old order” – companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, who in recent years have spent hundreds of millions of dollars acquiring small craft breweries — of attempting to “put the genie back in the bottle” and “use big money to squeeze out craft brewers from the marketplace and limit beer drinker choice.”
In describing those purchases as a “deliberate effort to eliminate the differentiation between small and independent craft brewers and those owned by larger conglomerates,” Pease resuscitated a 4 ½ year-old debate that first began in late 2012 when he, alongside BA chairman Charlie Papazian and Schlafly Beer co-founder Dan Kopman, penned an op-ed extolling the virtues of independently owned craft breweries for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch.
That message has since been refocused around four pillars: independence, authenticity, collaborative spirit and community-mindedness.
“These values are in your DNA and ours (the BA) too,” Pease told the crowd. “And consumers — America’s beer drinkers — know that.”
In an interview with Brewbound, Pease said the BA would be “hanging its hat” on the value of independence. “We think it does matter to the beer drinker – who makes the beer – and that is where you will see renewed energy and focus from the BA.”
Allagash founder Rob Tod, who also serves as the chair of the BA board of directors, echoed Pease in his own address and characterized the state of the beer business as one that was in the midst of a “tectonic shift.”
“We should be gravely concerned when we hear themes like ‘independence does not matter to the beer drinker,’” he said.
Tod implored brewers continue having conversations with beer drinkers, and members of the media, about the differences between independently-owned craft breweries and those owned by larger conglomerates.
“For the sake of beer, we need to tell our story and keep the steering wheel for beer in the hands of the small and independent brewers,” he said.
“We have a responsibility to tell our story,” he added, suggesting that if BA members ignored opportunities to discuss the benefits of independence, “it could shift the pendulum back to the bleak landscape before our pioneers got their start.”