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  • Writer's pictureLushmuddled

Tears for Beers

The big news this week, as far as beer drinkers are concerned, is that Stone & Wood was sold to Lion. Some people feel sad that this craft brewery was sold to one of the biggest beverage groups in the world. Others feel betrayed that a business which was proudly independent no longer is. But, let's be honest, this is a good thing.

For anyone who isn't across the topic, Stone & Wood is from Byron Bay and was one of most successful craft breweries in NSW. This isn't the first time something like this has happened. Mountain Goat, 4 Pines, Pirate Life all started out as indie brewers. They have all become part of one larger group or another.

Craft beer drinkers are upset. Credit where credit's due, there probably isn't a target market which is more switched on - or as open minded. They don't think twice about a triple hopped sour raspberry saison fermented with a yeast strain isolated from the brewer's hair. Many a wine drinker, on the other hand, will say 'I only drink Shiraz.' The wine crowd could definitely learn a thing or two from craft beer drinkers about the importance of supporting small producers.

But craft beer drinkers are also quick to burn bridges. I've had many conversations with people who will no longer buy 4 Pines simply because 'it isn't a craft beer anymore.' Really, though, what has actually changed? Isn't the devotion to independent breweries simply because they're independent a little extreme?

Last year I spoke to my 4 Pines rep about this. For a start, this was an actual 4 Pines rep, someone I had dealt with for years, not some rando from CUB or Asahi. 'We're still brewing the same beer. We're still doing our limited releases. We haven't had any changes come down from on high.' So, in reality, the equivalent would be if your local green grocer got bought out by Coles, but still sold the same produce.

Look. I get it. I really do. I try to avoid shopping at big name grocery stores or bottle shops. They simply don't need my money like smaller companies do. Plus, it's nice having a personal niche and it's painful when that gets taken away and your special tipple suddenly becomes a cog in the bigger wheel.

But anyone who has ever run a business knows that the golden rule is to expand or perish. Stone & Wood expanded. It was the flag-bearer of the Fermentum group, which included Two Birds and Fixation. There is, though, only so far an independent brewery can develop before it becomes a Small Group. And then it's only a matter of time before that Small Group becomes a Big Group and, as we all know, Big Groups aren't independent.

There's an element of “The Bigger Picture” and “Revolution from the Inside Out” in this. Big Groups can't beat indie breweries at their own game. Instead of fighting them, it's easier to simply join them (or buy them and then let them do their thing). It seems disingenuous to see this move by Stone & Wood as anything but a victory. They're still going to make the same beer. Two charities close to them, InGrained and Big Scrub LandCare, have been pledged a total of $6 million by Lion as part of the deal. While a lot of people are shocked and, yes, hurt, about Stone & Wood's departure from the world of indie beer, I can't think of a more graceful exit.

Ultimately, the craft beer movement was about introducing a certain level of quality and attention to detail into the market which wasn't necessarily there in larger companies. A community of support grew around that. It was a grassroots movement aimed at showing the Big Groups how it was done and that it could be done by everyone. The final blow was always going to be Big Group actually listening to that message. Now that Lion, Asahi and InBev are on board, we should be celebrating. This means that the changes we wanted to see are finally happening.

The Craft Beer Revolution is working. There is better beer for everyone.

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