Anheuser Busch-InBev, by way of their Disruptive Growth Unit ZX Ventures, has purchased Northern Brewer, one of the biggest supply avenues for homebrewers. This has understandably created a lot of hostility among homebrewers who are typically the most fervent and committed fans of good beer. This is a little different than buying your local brewery though, so it’s interesting to see how it’s going to play out.
On the surface and from the quotes from people involved, nothing will really change besides ownership. Much like nothing really changed in your glass of Goose Island IPA when that was purchased, we’ll still have access to the same supplies and ingredients that we did before the acquisition. There’s no indication that ZX Ventures is going to pull the best hops or try to sabotage homebrewing.
That’d be a stupid investment overall and nothing about Northern Brewery is proprietary in the sense that if they wanted to destroy the company the purchasers would all just flock to a different online retailer that would fill the demand.
We’re probably not going to be awash with homebrew kits for Bud Light Lime-A-Rita either, though it’d be simple enough to just not buy them. Even if people did buy them, it’d likely end up being a gateway situation where they started brewing and trying different things.
No, ultimately this purchase was about purchasing a profitable company. It’s a sound investment; beer drinkers not buying the macro brands are either buying craft, or making their own.
This might very well be a good judge of how we ultimately view AB-InBev’s presence.
Is the relationship so toxic that Northern Brewer’s customer base will fade away, turning to various other retailers both online and locally? There’s a lot of big talk about just that, but you don’t really see sales of the major craft beer brands that got purchased plummeting, and there are a lot more alternative options to Goose Island IPA than there are places to buy galaxy hops. If Northern Brewer remains a good place to buy homebrew stuff, then I suspect people will still go there to buy homebrew stuff.
I used to buy my supplies from Midwest Supplies, which had merged with Northern Brewer a few years ago. I’ve recently had some success with a local place called love2brew. They’re helpful, have great selection, and let me buy grains in fractions of a pound If I want to.
Still, they do run out of hops. They do have smaller purchasing power. It does require a special trip and possibly a backup choice in hops or yeast strain. When I put together a recipe online I know what’s in stock, and I know it’s all going to arrive right there on my doorstep.
What happens if Northern Brewer utilizes all the might of their parent companies to corner the market on the newest favorite hop? What if they use that might to push for and develop a new favorite hop? I’d log in and order it without a second thought.
Right now nothing has changed but the big parent company at the head of the chain. Homebrewers will still be homebrewers. Most of the better craft beer still struggles to produce enough to meet demand, and there’s always a new hop, a new grain, or a revitalized style finding it’s way into our glasses. AB-InBev has repeatedly maneuvered to get its piece of the pie, but so far they haven’t really done anything new that threatens it. Maybe they never will.
Michael can be found on Twitter and Untappd and is going to attempt a New England Pale Ale homebrew next. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.