The May 3 news of AB InBev’s purchase of Asheville’s Wicked Weed was a shock to the nerve of local craft brewing. The news spread like a tsunami on social media, with craft beer lovers hoping it wasn’t true. But, it was.
AB InBev’s first craft brewery purchase of 2017 hit the heart of Asheville. Wicked Weed, founded in Asheville in 2012, will be added to The High End, a division of AB InBev that includes craft partners Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel, Elysian, Four Peaks and Breckenridge Brewery.
In Western North Carolina, ‘keeping it local’ is a key tenant in the craft beer industry. While beer fans are happy when their favorite local breweries increase distribution or open new facilities, they want to know that the beer quality they’ve come love to continues.
To some, Anheuser-Busch is viewed as the enemy. The company poked fun at craft beer drinkers in its Super Bowl ads — and craft beer drinkers do not have a high opinion of the taste of A-B brews.
Many craft beer drinkers reacted to the Wicked Weed purchase news with dismay and disgust, with comments such as, “I’ll never go there again.”
“It was a good run,” wrote one of Wicked Weed’s FaceBook friends. “Unfortunately I cannot buy your products going forward, but thanks for the beers. I’ll miss your brewpub especially; you had a great thing going on there.”
Others congratulated the Wicked Weed owners Walt and Luke Dickinson and Ryan, Rick and Denise Guthy on their success and recognition by brewing giant AB InBev.
The AB InBev press release announcing the purchase gave high praise to Wicked Weed.
“Wicked Weed Brewing, one of Asheville’s most creative and fastest-growing craft breweries will be joining The High End, Anheuser-Busch’s business unit focused on its craft and import brands.
“This is an exciting time for the entire brewing team,” said co-founder Walt Dickinson. “Our ability to create a wide range of really well-executed beers that are focused on creativity, quality and drinkability is what makes Wicked Weed great. We have chosen to partner with The High End to position ourselves to make Wicked Weed what we imagined it could be when we first sat at a craft beer bar and talked about opening a brewery. As a brewer, giving our team more resources to continue innovating our portfolio and the ability to reach more craft drinkers, allows us to keep putting the beer and the people first.”
“Asheville has been our home for almost 30 years, and we believe this partnership will benefit our entire community, which has a deeply rooted passion for beer,” added co-founder Rick Guthy. “With our team’s heightened ability to innovate our hoppy and sour styles using the highest-quality ingredients around, we hope more and more beer drinkers will flock to Asheville to taste what we have to offer. Our pub and Funkatorium will stay focused on producing creative beers and will be part of Asheville’s beer tourism for years to come.”
“We are excited to welcome Walt, Luke, Ryan, Rick, Denise, and the entire Wicked Weed team into our High End family,” said Felipe Szpigel, president, The High End. “It’s clear to me Wicked Weed is redefining what sophistication in beer can mean, with their amazing offerings being relevant in a wide variety of occasions. Their ability to brew the highest quality beers, in a variety of styles, along with their exciting barrel program, leads me to be optimistic about what our futures hold together.”
Anheuser-Busch’s partnership with Wicked Weed is subject to regulatory approval. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.”
(excerpted from the Anheuser-Busch press release, May 3, 2017)
Statements from the industry
The craft brewing industry has begun weighing in on the Wicked Weed purchase.
“It’s America — and it’s Wicked Weed’s choice,” said Billy Pyatt, co-owner of Catawba Brewing and president of the Asheville Brewers Alliance. “New Belgium Brewing is employee-owned and Sierra Nevada is family-owned. Wicked Weed chose to sell.”
“I’m happy for them,” Pyatt said. “But, there are questions for them now like effect on distribution. There are already bottle shops pulling the product.”
“Every business has a different set of motivators; ours (at Catawba) include being local and part of the community, but the upside for Wicked Weed is big, having that kind of money and resources.”
Pyatt said the fallout is unknown. He said that the Asheville Brewers Alliance previously discussed the sale of breweries in general.
“We haven’t discussed the Wicked Weed purchase since it just happened,” he said. “But, a brewery must be independent in the Asheville Brewers Alliance.”
Being local and independent are core concepts for Joe Rowland, owner of Nantahala Brewing in Bryson City, and past president of the Asheville Brewers Alliance.
“If you, like myself, want the spirit of craft beer to live on, support your favorite independent craft breweries,” Rowland posted. “We are the ones who are rebuilding America’s small towns, supporting our local community and employing your neighbors. We are making a difference by making our towns better places to live, better places to raise our families and we are the engines that are encouraging economic growth. There are thousands of us all across this great country and we also make great, award-winning craft beer. Seek them out and support them.”
The NC Craft Brewers Guild issued a statement on the Wicked Weed purchase:
“While we are disheartened to hear of the sale of Wicked Weed Brewing Co. to Anheuser-Busch, we wish our friends at Wicked Weed all the best. They have certainly made a profound impact on the Asheville beer scene and they’ve helped raise the profile of North Carolina as a craft beer state.
Since our primary mission is to represent our state’s independent craft brewers, Wicked Weed can no longer be a voting member of the NC Craft Brewers Guild.”
What happens now remains to be seen.
By Carol Viau