Photo courtesy of Stone Brewing
Greg Koch & Steve Wagner
If I had a dollar for every time someone brought up the "Craft vs. Big Beer" debate lately, I'd be able to fund Stone Brewing's new $100 million independent investment venture myself. I'm happy to report Stone has taken the initiative without me and launched a counterattack on macro beer that's shaken the industry to the core: True Craft.
Historically, there have been two schools of thought when it comes to beer. You either drink what you like (origins be damned), or you're dedicated to the craft through and through. With the massive explosion of craft breweries that have opened since 2008, a gray area has evolved—one where values such as quality, localism and ownership stagger differently for every consumer.
If you're in the "just drink good beer, who cares where it comes from" camp, then you won't care about what True Craft is poised to accomplish. And if you're a "craft" brewery that launched in the boom and puts profits over passion, congratulations on successfully leeching off the hard-earned reputation of others. Ain't America grand?
However, if you're a devotedly independent craft brewer with any aspiration of self-funded expansion, the cards are stacked against you. The existing system is designed to protect big money and subdue emerging threats to the fragile ecosystem by stifling competition through backhanded distribution tactics and completely legal but pretty slimy pay-for-play loopholes.
That's where True Craft comes in.
"There is a squeeze coming in the craft beer world," says Stone CEO and co-founder Greg Koch. "True Craft's goal is simple: Give craft brewers another option than selling a majority interest to private equity or selling out to big beer."
With its existing distribution network, global infrastructure and self-tailored deep pockets (along with an unshakable independent streak), Stone is uniquely positioned to spearhead this new path for craft breweries. By creating an alternate financing option for smaller breweries, competitors become partners to the benefit of all. (Or so they hope.)
Nationwide participation will be open to established independent breweries that need financing to grow without relinquishing their company philosophies or control. It's also noteworthy that True Craft will extend beyond the craft beer community into sustainable and authentic food sources as well, allowing the united band of participants to compete more effectively in their respective industries.
This isn't the first craft beer alliance alternative, not even in San Diego. Green Flash Brewing and Alpine Beer Company banded together in 2014, and Victory Brewing Company partnered with Southern Tier Brewing Company earlier this year. Still, with an initial $100 million investment just to start, True Craft is poised to strike a legitimate blow to the encroaching forces of Big Beer and the industrialized food-and-beverage conglomerates as a whole.
Stone (nor its yet-to-be-named partners) hasn't released the "minimal" stipulations for participating, so it's impossible to know if True Craft will shape up to be the final word in independent beer growth—but at least it's an alternative. Call them beer elitists, call them arrogant bastards, even call them opportunistic if that's how you feel. But Stone puts its money where its mouth is. And that makes it true to the craft.