There is no such thing as the ‘craft beer community’

Of all the multiple nonsenses written about the acquisition of a minority stake in Beavertown Brewery by Heineken International, perhaps the stupidest came from someone called Kirk Hilton on Twitter, who declared this week that Logan Plant and his crew had “chosen to turn their back on the craft beer community” and “should know about the effect” its “sell out” had had on “the community as a whole”.

Let’s be clear. There is no “craft beer community”, any more than there is a “Stella Artois community” or a “Nescafe community” or a “sourdough bread community”. I drink craft beer, whatever “craft beer” is, but I certainly don’t regard myself as part of a “community” as represented by Kirk and his pals on the Facebook UK Craft Beer Forum, where, as part of the general tedious posturing, cask beer is regularly dismissed as “twiggy” and “boring”. That’s not a “community”, it’s a group of snobby elitists with their heads so far up their bottoms they can probably see their own tonsils. The laugh is that the hop-laden brews they love (and indeed I love many of them too) sprang from beers developed originally by people like Fritz Maytag at Anchor Steam and Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada that were themselves inspired by the “twiggy” bitter beers of England: Anchor’s Liberty Ale, the first highly hopped Cascade-driven West Coast pale ale, sprang directly from a visit Fritz Maytag made to Keighley in Yorkshire around 1974, where he sampled Timothy Taylor Landlord.

What is particularly crass about the reaction from Hilton and the rest of the UKCBF crew is their demand that Beavertown must stay small, or else it is guilty of “betraying” the “craft beer community”. What they ought to be doing, of course, is cheering until the rafters shake at the success of one of the best four or five start-ups in the UK beer business, which will now be able to bring its beers to even more drinkers.

Logan Plant, like all successful businessmen, wants to see his business grow even larger: only a fool, frankly, sits on something that could potentially become massive and declines to allow it to grow as big as possible. (The reason why that’s foolish, in case you can’t work it out, is because what will happen is that someone else with fewer scruples about making a fortune will come along and replicate what you’ve done, overtake you, steal your market because they’ve grown big enough to have the marketing clout to do so, and put you out of business.)

However, like others – Meantime, Camden Town, even BrewDog – Plant discovered that there are few or no ways to bring in the money required to step up to the next level without shaking hands with Big Capital. The £40m Heineken is pumping into Beavertown will enable it to build (if the  Caterer’s figures are correct) a 275,000-barrel (450,000hl) brewery on three acres of land, tn tims the size of their current plant, creating 150 jobs. For a company founded only in 2012, that’s fantastic. But as Plant told the Caterer, when he first looked at how to get the cash for that project, “Crowdfunding simply couldn’t achieve the funds we need, so that option came off the table quickly. We then started looking at private equity, which initially looked solid. However, the more we looked at the offers, it became clear that it was only an option for the short to medium term.

Logan Plant: ‘sensible and stable’

“That was when we concluded that the most sensible and stable option was the one that sat furthest away from our minds at the start of the process, one that at first glance felt alien but on closer and more detailed inspection offered us boundless opportunities to grow and develop in the right, safe business manner: finding another like-minded brewery as a partner.”

The finance people Plant used in the negotiations with Heineken, incidentally, are Arlington Capital Advisors of Georgia in the United States, who were the same gang that advised BrewDog last year when the Aberdeenshire lads sold a £213m stake in themselves to TSG Consumer Partners, the $5bn San Francisco-based private equity firm that owns Pabst, the American “industrial” lager brand. You might think that as a result James Watt is being a tad hypocritical in declaring that BrewDog will no longer stock Beavertown beers after Heineken bought a minority stake in the East London firm – I couldn’t possibly comment.

What too few people in the craft bubble fail to grasp is that the overwhelming bulk of beer sold in the UK – nine pints in 10 – is mass-produced, and if we want that to change we have to cheer on those successful craft beer brewers who are attracting investment to grow larger, and expand the craft beer market. Ah, but as Kirk Hilton tweeted to Beavertown: “You’re not craft beer any more.” Silly Kirk thinks he can spot the change in the taste of a pint of beer the moment someone else buys a stake in the brewer that made it. Fortunately the UK Craft Beer Forum represents perhaps 0.08 per cent of all British beer drinkers, and Beavertown, I am sure, will succeed and thrive without its approval.

65 thoughts on “There is no such thing as the ‘craft beer community’

  1. Spot on.

    I am sick to death of the level of puerile abuse that breweries get when they sell up to a larger brewery. Even a couple of years after Devils Backbone were acquired by Anheuser-Busch there are idiots out there disparaging the hard work of Steve Crandall, Jason Oliver, Hayes Humphries, and the army of brewers, servers, cooks, and salespeople who make Devils Bacbone a phenomenal company and a brewery that makes beer that is streets ahead of the competition in Virginia. There are times when my more cynical self is sure that the craft beer guild in VA only kicked them out so someone else would have a hope in hell of winning the big prize at the Virginia Craft Beer Cup. I have probably drunk more DB beer since they were acquired, and there are some beers I am so happy not to have missed out on by being a blinkered purist.

  2. Well written as always but I don’t agree in all. The craft beer community, well it’s up to you if yo like to be a part of it or not. I am not sure that you may choise or not (I could be that I don’t fully understand the word ) But your absolutely right in your saying that a Facebook Groupe can’t speak for all of us.

    But, do listen to Logan Plants speach from last years Extravaganza ( and then tell me that this isn’t a double message?

  3. sod kirk. he banned me from the group for having the same first name as someone who caused trouble months ago. They are elitists

  4. I totally agree with the comments made by Martin Cornell, Logan Plant made an excellent business decision by teaming up with Heineken. Good luck to Beavertown and all the new personnel who join them. I enjoy many types of beer, extremely pleased with the growth of micro-breweries, and when the mood takes me I enjoy a lager as well.

  5. Hear, hear, Martyn.
    What we need is for the whole UK brewing industry to recalibrate itself, so that, at some point in the future, most beer on the UK market is craft.

    1. Define craft beer? Will Beavertown still be making craft beer? I’m not sure, I would just like to understand what constitutes craft beer.

  6. You’re absolutely right about the issues with some of the online craft beer “communities”. That said, I think your analysis of the broader criticism of Beavertown’s decision is well off the mark.

    There is a very significant difference between a brewery like Heineken and a VC firm (even one that owns an industrial beer brand like Pabst). VC firms like TSG haven’t abused their market power and predatory pricing to lock up taps and reduce access to market for smaller craft brewers – that is standard business practice for large brewers buying small brands across the globe. Having Beavertown now means that Heineken will offer their customers unfair deals in order to remove independent brands in favour of their own products.

    It’s simply not right to perpetuate the PR rubbish that suggests there isn’t a harm to the broader craft beer industry when a leading brewery like Beavertown gets in bed with a company like Heineken.

    1. “Heineken will offer their customers unfair deals in order to remove independent brands in favour of their own products.” Why are those deals unfair? Perfectly standard, legitimate industry practice. Why do you think eg Marston’s bought the Charles Wells brands and AB InBev bought Camden Town? And actually it’s a boost to the broader craft beer industry because it means the products of a highly regarded brewery will now be more widely available, giving more people the chance to drink good-quality craft beer.

      1. Maybe you should google “Anti-Competitive practices”? The wiki page lists these among others:

        Dumping, where a company sells a product in a competitive market at a loss. Though the company loses money for each sale, the company hopes to force other competitors out of the market, after which the company would be free to raise prices for a greater profit.

        Exclusive dealing, where a retailer or wholesaler is obliged by contract to only purchase from the contracted supplier.
        Price fixing, where companies collude to set prices, effectively dismantling the free market.

        Tying, where products that aren’t naturally related must be purchased together.

        Absorption of a competitor or competing technology, where the powerful firm effectively co-opts or swallows its competitor rather than see it either compete directly or be absorbed by another firm.

        Does any of this sound familiar? Why is this a bad thing you ask? Because it reduces consumer choice by allowing large companies to become larger, creating monopolies and oligopolies where the market ceases to function correctly. Pretty much any economist from any side of the political spectrum agrees with this idea.

        1. Nobody is doing that. What the ARE doing is offering a ‘one-stop shop’ – ‘buy our industrial lager, we’ll give you a nice line-up of craft beers as well’

      2. Exactly, Martyn – the goal must be that one day most beer is what we now call “craft”. Much more interesting beer will be the norm, and this is the direction that Beavertown, for example, are taking us in.

        1. Harry –

          I’m not defending Heineken, but the examples you quote are not proving dumping. One relates to a semi-cartel and price-fixing in the Dutch market, the other to getting bars to sign exclusivity agreements – I’m not sure that this second one is even against the law in this country.
          I was wondering whether there was any evidence of dumping and other illegal practises in the UK market.

  7. can’t help but notice this article mentions absolutely nothing about all the craft breweries pulling out of this years beaver town festival

          1. If that’s what you really think, there’s no point discussing this. The entire article is irrelevant.

          2. And yet my blogpost received more than 3,000 hits in less than two days, while my tweet was liked 100 times and retweeted more than 30 times. A great many people seem to have found it very relevant.

  8. Absolute garbage on so many levels. And Ash: Kirk didn’t boot you from the forum as he has no ability to do so. Nor do I know who he is but I will happily find out why if you let me have your details.

      1. I don’t need to make any argument as (a) the main thrust of my comment was nothing to do with you and (b) as a former member of the UKCBF you will know that your commentary does not reflect any kind of fact.

        1. So – in other words you don’t have an argument. Unless you can show me how “people who enjoy drinking craft beer” make up any sort of meaningful community, then to maintain that there is a “craft beer community” that can be unitedly affected and offended by the actions of a brewer is as nonsensical as saying there is a ‘Marmite lovers community”.

    1. Rob F. This shows how little you know about this Kirk. I’ve had friends booted off and I’ve seen first-hand how he operates. I’ll never go back.

      1. As a moderator of the group in question, I’d argue I know considerably more about it than you, particularly in the who has the ability to remove people that don’t share our values – which are clearly outlined in the pinned post. I’ve also seen the person you appear to have an issue with (who is one tenth of the team) at first hand and indeed had a beer with him the other day.

        Additionally I am also a regular untappd user and I’d be prepared to suggest I know more about that than you…

  9. “only a fool, frankly, sits on something that could potentially become massive and declines to allow it to grow as big as possible”

    This is one of the many points I disagree with you about. Ethics and morals matter. You say, “someone else with fewer scruples about making a fortune will come along […], and put you out of business.” No matter what value you’re talking about (ethical treatment of employees, fair business practices, honesty in marketing) this can be true. By your logic we should all be quick to abandon morality in the never-ending pursuit of wealth and growth. Moreover, you are attempting to deny those of us who choose to pursue scrupulous business practices the one cudgel we have for fighting off the baddies, moral condemnation of consumers against those who take the low road.

    Don’t think I’m some Utopian socialist dreamer, quite the opposite. I’m a free market libertarian. Beavertown has every right to do what they did, but don’t tell me that they don’t deserve every bit of our disdain for being hypocrites.

    I’ll close with a quote from Logan Plant from last year’s Extravaganza: “The puppet master that is big beer is stirring and starting to swipe its tentacles far and wide across this great industry. In the beginning when my friends at Camden sold 100% to ABI and Meantime went to SAB, I tried to look at it on the positive side. I concluded that with the backing of these monsters that both brands would be catapulted further than we could possibly ever reach and being “dressed up” as craft would perhaps introduce new drinkers into the craft movement and thus leading them to search out and try more craft, makes sense, right? But, now I see it for what it is, and I was mistaken. However you look at it, these guys are ruthless. They are wounded, and they are losing money and volume stakes across the world and are now pissed off. […] Their plan is to control your mind and therefor your habits. It’s getting to the point where we as a craft beer drinker must know the difference between “crafty”, owned by big beer, and true independents. It’s a super confusing time in the US, for example on the shelf with 20 buyouts already perhaps more, I don’t know, but what is true craft beer, and what is the wolf in sheep’s clothes?”

    1. “Ethics and morals matter.”

      They might give you a nice warm feeling, but they won’t add much to the bottom line. And if your employees lose their jobs, your investors their money, the warm glow of knowing that they were more ethical than the people who put them out of business won’t pay the rent.

      “By your logic we should all be quick to abandon morality in the never-ending pursuit of wealth and growth.”

      I repeat: there’s no column in a profit and loss acount for ‘ethical good-will’

      “You are attempting to deny those of us who choose to pursue scrupulous business practices the one cudgel we have for fighting off the baddies, moral condemnation of consumers against those who take the low road.”

      The one cudgel you have is taking your business elsewhere. Moral condemnation is valueless.

      “Beavertown has every right to do what they did, but don’t tell me that they don’t deserve every bit of our disdain for being hypocrites.”

      If you think it’s hypocritical to create 150 new jobs, I fear I will have to disagree.

  10. There is nothing wrong with being succesful and growing your busines and i fully understand and respect Logans decision. However making a big speach like the one Uffe mentioned earlier and then selling to Heineken makes him come across as a cynical hyprocrite. I dont think the breweries would face such a big backlash on selling out to larger breweries if they hadnt made such a big fuss about how they are defiantly independant and would never sell.

    1. Except that he hasn’t ‘sold’, he’s accepted investment money from them, and maintains a majority share.

        1. I’ve been commenting on the beer and pubs industry for more than 30 years. I covered the brewing industry in my MBA. I’ve written five books and hundreds of articles on the subject. I’ve spoken at conferences from Denmark to the US on beer. My work is used in university courses and quoted in people’s PhD theses. You are the first person to ever accuse me of naivety about the business.

          1. I don’t doubt your knowledge or expertise in beer, but on this particular subject you’re very wide of the mark. He has effectively sold almost half of his business, and of course a company like Heineken will expect to influence the business,. Heineken are openly all about disrupting the market (damaging their competitors) to turn a profit. This won’t end any differently. And *that* is why so many respected independent breweries are pulling out of BeaverEx, not your dismissive claim of “virtue-signalling”.

            Consider every other brewery who has sold or part-sold, and the impact on their product. There’s not a one of them who are operating to the same ethos they had before.

          2. “Consider every other brewery who has sold or part-sold, and the impact on their product. There’s not a one of them who are operating to the same ethos they had before”

            Actual examples, please, covering every brewery that could be regarded as having sold or part-sold to a larger firm.

  11. Aw shucks, someone wrote an article about me, I feel special. The fact that’s it’s total nonsense doesn’t matter, if fella can’t see that craft is a community he’s really not someone I want to waste my time on.

    1. Thank you for your reasoned argument, with supporting evidence, showing that there IS such a thing as the craft beer community. Oh, hang on …

      1. One definition of community is
        “the condition of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common”
        I’ve met, made friends and now socialise with people based initially on our mutual interest in craft beer and being part of a forum that discusses it. It also advertises events and organised get togethers all based round craft beer. That’s a community.

        1. No, it isn’t. It’s a group of people with a similar interest. It’s no more a community than a group of people who all like watching F1 is a community.

      1. I mean, you could google it in the Oxford English Dictionary:

        “A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.“

        So, the characteristic in this case would be a love of and interest in craft beer.

        It’s not ticket science.

        1. Sorry, but that was a rhetorical question.
          My actual point is that there is no hard and fast way of deciding what is and is not a community and therefore no right or wrong answer as to whether or not a “craft beer community” exists.

          You took me a little too literally.

          1. Fair enough. Of course, people have their own definitions. For me, I’ve travelled the country drinking with people I’ve met purely because they share an interest in craft beer. Consumers and brewers. This enabled me to run my own small charity craft beer festival, raising £2k in memory of my friend, which in no way would have been possible without these people. Who I’d never have met but for the craft beer community. It certainly exists for the people who enjoy it. Sure, maybe Martyn doesn’t share this view, but to state “Let’s be clear. There is no craft beer community” is news to us who are a part of it.

          2. You met lots of other people who like drinking craft beer. You didn’t meet them because they were part of a “community” but because they also liked craft beer. They’re still not in any meaningful sense a “community”. It’s as nonsensical as claiming that you travelled around the country meeting lots of people who collected beermats who you wouldn’t have met “but for the beer mat collecting community”.

        2. “A love of and interest in craft beer” is not enough to make a meaningful “community”. It’s not that important a thing. You could claim all sorts of communities, from the knitting community to the marbles-playing community, and they would all be equally meaningless.

  12. You can only stand back and applaud what Logan and team beaver have achieved and this deal will enable them to bring their wonderful beers to many more who may never had had the chance to try them, the term “craft beer” is so loosely associated now no one really knows what it means, a craft is for someone to put love and care into their product with a view to bring enjoyment and pleasure to people, by getting investment they achieve a greater audience to which their craft can been displayed. The snobs on UKCBF are in a bubble which is fueled by their own gases which they blow up their own arses.

  13. Where I’m finding a discord with the self-appointed “Craft Beer Community” is that “ethics and morals matter.”

    Well, of course they do. But a better question to ask is “Is it morally or ethically inept to take on an investment in your business from a larger business with access to capital?”

    I… don’t really see how that creates the purported moral issue. Unless, of course, you were slashing worker compensation or firing staff and pocketing the excess. And that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening here. It’s the opposite.

    I think there’s simply a predisposition to cling to the idea of “sticking it to the man” or eschewing “the system.” But I always thought the uprise of craft beer had to do more with consumer demand; the filling of a void in the marketplace. The fact that such investments are being made in this movement would appear to be a win. “The System” is changing on account of consumers voting with their dollar.

    Yes, not all of these breweries will benefit from the deeper pockets. Some may not last forever, some may get elbowed out on your local grocery store’s shelf. Such is business. It is competitive and cruel. If you’ve come here for the many happy endings, you’ve come to the wrong place.

  14. Hmmm…there is an awful lot of bollocks about craft beer. And I’m also very dubious about online communities. But there is something there. I’ve recently seen a beer geek tweet about the low ebb he’s at and people have offered to meet up with him for a chat, which must be a help if you’re spiralling into depression. I’ll also dismiss out of hand Beavertown’s boast of job creation. Bigger breweries are way more efficient in terms of labour so each new job at the bigger Beavertown will no doubt mean several fewer jobs at microbreweries.

    1. “I’ll also dismiss out of hand Beavertown’s boast of job creation. Bigger breweries are way more efficient in terms of labour so each new job at the bigger Beavertown will no doubt mean several fewer jobs at microbreweries.”

      Sorry? How do you make that out?

    2. I’m going to have to disagree with you on the jobs creation angle, Ed. For a start, you’re assuming a zero-sum game, and that Beavertown’s gains will solely be from microbreweries.

      1. Exactly Martyn.
        New jobs will be created – if a brewer (for example) leaves a smaller brewery to join Beavertown he will be replaced. There will be no job losses.
        If a microbrewery cannot survive the loss of one member of staff it’s either simply a lifestyle/hobby type arrangement, or not a viable business at all.
        Of course, the vast majority of the new jobs will not be for brewers, and will be recruited from the general UK workforce.
        I asked him to explain, and he just says “Think it through”….
        I have worked in this industry for a long time, and I have seen brewers move on many times. They are replaced and the world moves on.
        No jobs are lost.

  15. Great discussion/article and with the just announced Fourpure sale this topic will run and run.

    As someone who brews professionally at a (well regarded!) UK craft brewery I’d like to suggest a slightly different take on this topic predicated on the (hopefully commonly held) view that what matters is quality.

    I don’t think anyone with any taste training would argue that Gamma Ray or Punk IPA in their more recent incarnations are top tier UK craft beers? Yet because of deals like this and the relatively tiny size of the UK market these beers are going to be EVERYWHERE. Old warm bottles of Punk IPA are already a staple in corner stores across the land. Is this progress?

    In the USA they (mostly) have strict separation between beer producers, wholesalers and retail. And “pay to play” or tied houses/beer taps etc as we would know them are technically illegal (although obviously it still happens). This has protected the “choice” element in how bars can curate their beer offerings and importantly has secured the importance of locality. Good luck finding Stone IPA in the North East.

    We don’t have that protection here. What is happening is that the best funded and/or most commercially driven UK craft breweries are growing exponentially and blocking the paths to market for smaller breweries who often are producing better quality beers. I disagree with the assumption in the article above that any business must pursue maximum growth. The best chefs don’t open chain restaurants with 00’s of covers and the best vineyards don’t seek to add endless acreage year after year.

    Hopefully as the UK craft beer consumer evolves we will see a big move towards quality rather than brand/trend orientated purchase. We can only hope that when it does happen their are still provenance and quality based choices to be made and we don’t have an IPA/Pale Ale equivalent of Stella/Kronenbourg/Heineken/Fosters to choose from on bars across the land.


    1. “The best chefs don’t open chain restaurants with 00’s of covers”

      See eg Gordon Ramsay or Marco Pierre White for examples of successful Michelin-star chefs who did exactly that.

  16. Why would anyone wanna be associated with a ‘community’ full of socialist, hipster f@gs anyhow? The ‘craft beer community’ is the most noninclusive, bigoted community (other than said socialists, which seems to go hand in hand with craft beer).

    The second you ‘come out’ as even slightly Right leaning, you get nothing but hate from these ‘accepting’, ‘tolerant’ neckbearded, lonely middle-aged ‘men’.

    1. Never understand why some people think it’s funny/clever/snarky/insulting to use the word “bearded”.
      The vast majority of men have beards.
      You (clearly) choose to shave yours off. So what?

  17. This whole silly argument would stop if the brewers who sell their companies to multi-national beer companies, investment bankers, or to their rich uncle would simply say, “I did it for the money,” drop the mic and walk off stage. When they try to convince others ( and perhaps themselves) that it was done so that people outside of the company will somehow benefit along with them, trouble ensues. Whether benefits accrue to others is speculative. But it most certainly did not figure prominently in the decision to sell.

    1. This is the only sensible comment in a thread full of mudslinging from both sides. It’s the hypocrisy that rankles most people.

      Sure they can sell to InBev, or ABMiller, or even China Resources Snow Breweries Ltd. if they want to, but it sounds like the author thinks that all criticism of this sale is unfounded, unwarranted and from , and I quote the author here:

      ” a group of snobby elitists with their heads so far up their bottoms they can probably see their own tonsils. ”

      Perhaps it was the authors inflammatory wording peppered throughout the article that has caused so many “hits and tweets”. I know I ‘m not here because I agree with the articles contents.

      I also don’t belong to UKCBF and I resent that my criticism of the sale would have me labelled as “one of them” hipster types. The author needs to tone down his use of condescending language if he wants people to see his side of the argument. But given he has moved to targeted advertising perhaps inflammatory click-bait will be the new forte.

      A heads up, we use ad-blockers.

      1. At least I have the honesty to put my name clearly on everything I do, unlike you, hiding behind a pseudonym and making snidey comments about clickbait.

  18. I’d arogue beavertown ,like many other brewers ,has traded on the idea that there is a craft comunity. A sizable section of people who perceived themselves as part of that comunity aren’t happy with beavertown .beavertown is probably bug enough now to be able to ignore that section of the public. I do suspect the impact will be felt more on beavertown’s higher end products and we will see an increased focus on a core range. Only time will tell but I remain sceptical.

  19. 100% with Martyn here, the article’s spot on. The UK Craft Beer Forum on Facebook is in no way representative of any kind of ‘craft beer community’, if there even is such a thing. It’s quite clearly a place for stuck-up little elitists to try and make themselves feel more important than they really are. I checked it out once, got labelled a ‘mild drinker’ and thrown out for mentioning I once enjoyed a Magic Rock beer. Horrible place full of horrible people.

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