I can’t blame Ballast Point’s Jack White and Yuseff Cherney for selling their brewery to Constellation Brands. One billion dollars goes a long way toward convincing anybody to do anything.
But where does that leave San Diego’s craft beer industry? Independence and dedication to the DIY ethos can fly out the window once a banker adds that third comma. When Big Beer enters a community, the craft identity is officially up for sale, available to the highest bidder.
Jacob McKean, founder and CEO of Modern Times Beer, thinks consolidation threatens to undermine and dilute what makes locals so passionate about craft beer.
“I think the biggest danger these sales pose is making beer fans jaded,” McKean said. “They undermine the trust and enthusiasm beer drinkers have for craft beer and risk turning them into cynics.”
McKean adds that there’s a misconception that Big Beer is somehow forcing itself on craft breweries. “That’s not the case,” he said. “All of these companies sold because they wanted to sell.”
There are political reasons some craft beer fans have an aversion to brands associated with the major beer companies. For years the majors— in addition to peddling sub-standard swill—spent millions lobbying federal and state legislators to prevent independent breweries from thriving, thus putting a majority of markets in their stranglehold of suck.
According to Opensecrets.org, a site that tracks money in politics, only AB/Inbev, MillerCoors and Coca-Cola spent more beverage industry lobbying dollars than Constellation Brands. Some people may prefer to keep politics out of their beer, but in today’s market, ignorance is not bliss.
Now, money gets siphoned into the pockets of greedy bankers and corporate bean counters. And as the craft label in the beer industry is commoditized and diluted, the need has arisen for a new label/hashtag to better represent what craft used to mean. The guys at Three B Zine are pushing for “IndieBeer,” a term which some believe says more about San Diego beer today than craft does.
If San Diego had a Mount Rushmore of beer, Ballast Point would be on it. The value in Ballast Point was not just the product, but also the brand and all it represented. A locally owned company with humble beginnings in a Linda Vista strip mall and the scrappy entrepreneur turning his passion into an empire is the type of capitalist wet dream we’re told is only possible in America. As Ballast Point’s renown grew, so did San Diego’s. The authenticity people associate with San Diego beer is there because of breweries like Ballast Point. In helping build this brand association, it was uniquely positioned to leverage it into a pants-shitting payday.