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Stone's True Craft Gives Growing Craft Brewers Alternative

Eno Sarris, May 03, 2016 -   

Stone's Greg Koch unveiled a new initiative called True Craft this week. Stone and an alliance of investors are hoping to create an alternative to big beer's acquisitions, and even to the majority investments from the world of finance that constitute the second wave of buyouts.  

True Craft is a consortium of investors who have pledged a $100 million so far to a fund that would "provide financing and operational guidance to small brewers who might otherwise have few options to protect the passion, heart and soul of their company" per a press release from the company. 

Details are a bit light, but the press release says that breweries that participate in True Craft will receive minority investments with "minimal stipulations." These breweries will also be "aligned in the philosophical mindset of banding together to preserve craft while retaining full soul and control of their businesses for years to come." 

In his announcement of the initiative, Koch began with memories of painful moments in his high school life, when all he wanted to do was fit in. He spoke eloquently of the dangers of Big Beer and Big Food, of the risks that an artisan entrepeneur faces today -- "because they virtually have no choice" but to fit in, to go for the dollar, and to sell out. 

He chronicles the journey from the heyday of choice (the 1870s), or at least the first heyday, into the decade of homogeneity (the 1970s). We went from thousands of breweries to the era in which light beer was invented.

Recently, Tom Cizauskas from Yours for Good Fermentables created a stat called Brewery Capacity Quotient to relate the number of breweries to the number of people in the country. Breweries per person peaked in the 1870s when there were 10.7 breweries per 100,000 people, saw a valley in the 1970s (.84 breweries per 100,000), and is in the middle of a rennaisance (1.3 per 100k). 

Perhaps that means that we are headed for another correction -- after all, the last time had this many breweries per person, big beer consolidated it all down to a few light beer companies, and we are in the middle of something that looks like that right now. But Cizauskas points out that brewery production per capita is actually still down. 

In any case, we are in flux right now, and Koch wants to help young breweries ready to expand. By offering minority investments, he can help them grow without telling them what to do. 

Since there aren't many details, we have to wonder about the benefit of this to Stone, beyond marketing and feeling good. Perhaps True Craft will have some distribution strings tied to it? Maybe that's not too much to give up to get investment without giving up the steering wheel, maybe others will find that too much of a price. 

We're waiting to know a little bit more. But, as homogenization threatens -- big beer is in a "plan to steal craft beer of its authenticity" and provide the illusion of choice according to Koch -- and Stone wishes to promote artisanal entrepeneurship. True Craft may sound as divisive and silly as some past industry terms, but it provides a currently lacking alternative, and may keep Little Beer alive as a happy band of misfits. 

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