Are you thinking of buying a craft brewer? Read these instructions first

Are you thinking of buying a craft brewer? Read these instructions first

This month, SABMiller announced the purchase of UK craft brewer Meantime Brewing Co. Larry Nelson has found the instruction manual.

Congratulations on the purchase of your new craft brewery. With proper care and maintenance, your Meantime Brewing Co should provide you with many decades of brewing and brand excellence.

But, before commencing operation, it's important that you read through this instruction manual carefully. Craft breweries by their relatively embryonic nature are delicate creatures and can be damaged through failure to care for the moving parts, or from overuse, the latter a temptation for any new ownership.

Please pay heed to these 'do's' and 'don'ts'. Failure to follow these instructions may result in your warranty being voided.*

Instruction manuals can, almost by definition, be dry and technical. There are no such worries here! Allow me to present what you need to know in short bullet point form. And, to illustrate best practice, we'll refer from time to time to hypothetical craft brewer aficionados that we've randomly chosen to call Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors.

Are you sitting comfortably, with a branded beverage of your choice to hand? Good. Then, let's begin.

DO ensure that all movable parts are secured before beginning operation. Craft brewers can be distinguished from their industrial-scale counterparts by the relevance of their management and especially their brewers to their public perception. Craft beer drinkers know the people who brew their favourites by name.

As an example of what might happen, let's look at A-B InBev, whose recent purchase of Elysian Brewing in Seattle, Washington has gone awry. One of the company's founders, Dick Cantwell, an early champion of the American craft beer movement, has resigned, saying that he wasn't consulted fully on the sale to A-B InBev by his business partners.

Cantwell's exit played out nationally in the American brewing community. I kid you not. If the news is being Tweeted by beer bloggers three time-zones distant in Baltimore and points along the opposite east coast, then you have a problem of sizeable dimensions.

The interesting thing here is that Cantwell didn't lay blame at the feet of A-B InBev, saying in an email to a Washington beer blog that he had been treated with "consideration and seriousness" by a company who presented him with "some pretty exciting future possibilities". Never mind: again, make sure everyone is on board with your arrival, or face the wrath of social media.

Speaking of which:

DO have a communications strategy in place to reassure the community that embraced your craft brewer of choice from the outset that all will remain as is. There will be mixed emotions – we were here first! Talk up the positives, such as investment in the brewery and further innovation in beer styles, gains made possible by your financial wherewithal and brewing expertise.

Take Molson Coors following its acquisition of Sharp's Brewery back at the outset of 2011. Beer writers of all stripes were ferried down to Cornwall to meet the Sharp's team, to be reassured that all was well and that things would only get better. Molson Coors managed the message with some success.

Beyond the true believers, DO explain to all stakeholders how the acquisition fits into your global aspirations. What is its value within the big picture? You don't want observers to conclude that this is some random, me-too purchase.

To that end, DO create a division within your organisation for all craft beer-related acquisitions. Appoint someone at the top who's known and respected in the craft beer community, if at all possible, and connect the grouping with the faintest of dotted lines to the corporate organogram.

This is an important, forward-looking point. You'll find that a craft brewer is a fun thing to own and it is addictive behaviour. If one isn't enough, make sure you know where the pieces fit.

DON'T be greedy, either in terms of margins or volumes. All brewers talk up using the "best malt and hops" to the extent that it's now a marketing cliché. But, it's especially true of craft brewers – don't start using your purchasing power and start bringing in less expensive, inferior quality ingredients. You'll be rumbled by the cognoscenti and reap the whirlwind.

At the same time you'll want to share the fruits of your new-found brewery with one and all. By all means, make use of your distribution muscle and move your craft brewer's best into fresh markets – but don't over-extend. Craft beer shuns ubiquity. In your decision-making process, to use a forestry analogy, what you have does not have the potential of a 20-foot Canadian maple tree; rather, it's more akin to a Japanese bonsai. Stay classy, Mayfair.

To that end, DON'T engage in above-the-line marketing. Again, you'll want to share your passion for your new craft brewer's delights with many, many people. Resist this. If you must market, engage at the point of sale. Basics such as beer mats and branded glassware aid beer drinkers in discovering the brands for themselves. And, above all, educate the bar staff about the joys of your product.

Take our friend A-B InBev, who recently rocked the craft brewing community in the US with a much-debated advertisement for Budweiser, which aired during the Super Bowl, that, to most observers, took a swing at those who enjoy 'pumpkin peach ales' rather than promoting their own macro 'golden suds'.

This one scores in the own goal department. There weren't a lot of 'pumpkin peach ales' out there – save one previously brewed by the then just-acquired Elysian Brewing.

Our take on the ad was that it was to reassure Bud's base that the beer remains a good bar call, one that could be enjoyed without apology. Analogously, it's very much like a doomed Republican presidential hopeful taking a campaign swing through bedrock Southern states in the final weeks of an election. It'll shore up the base, but your support is still being eroded by those pesky craft beer brewers.

DON'T brew the beer anywhere else than where it originates. In the case of Meantime, with its origins identifiable in the branding, it'd be folly to brew these beers elsewhere.

Or would it? Boston Beer Co now has Sam Adams brewed in the UK by family regional Shepherd Neame, and the Brooklyn Beer-Carlsberg partnership is expanding beyond Sweden to Norway. Here, it's matter of perception: it's easier for the cool kids, the craft brewers, to engage in such behaviour. It may not be fair but it need be recognised.

So it's not all clear-cut after all. But to summarise – keep the gang in place, organise internally, communicate externally, and don't be greedy. And, above all, drink responsibly.