Blog: Andy MortonAnheuser-Busch InBev's craft brewers turn hermits in their own kingdoms

Andy Morton | 15 August 2016

It's Summer in the northern hemisphere and the beer festivals are in full swing. Even the famously secluded North Korea is letting its regulation-cut hair down with the Taedonggang Beer Festival, named for the country's domestic beer and reportedly a firm favourite with leader Kim Jong-un.

But while it's no surprise that North Koreans like to celebrate beer - just-drinks reported last year that the country was looking for foreign investment for a US$52m brewery - one festival in the US is currently raising eyebrows.

The Virginia Craft Brewers Fest is going ahead as usual next weekend, once again held in the fields around the Devils Backbone’s brewery. The one big change, however, is that this year Devils Backbone, which helped found the festival, is not invited.

Why has it been banned from its own party? Because in April it agreed to be bought out by Anheuser-Busch InBev, which means that according to the rules of US craft beer, it is no longer a craft brewer.

The Washington Post has reported that next year the event is moving location, but for now Devils Backbone is in the socially awkward position of playing host without being eligible for any awards.

It is another example of the imposed rift created by craft brewers between themselves and perceived quislings who turn to the dark side of a corporate windfall (Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver summed up the feeling back in 2013 when he told me that Goose Island, which AB InBev had bought a few years previously, was beer's answer to Anakin Skywalker).

But with an ever-increasing number of craft breweries coming under the control of Big Beer, and with consolidation of the craft beer market forecast, how long can this extreme ex-communication hold?

Or will AB InBev's craft brewers be forced to look further afield if they seek beer festival acceptance. North Korea, perhaps?

Sectors: Beer & cider

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