If you like beer, you probably read Jim Koch’s recent editorial, which ran in The New York Times under the headline “Is It Last Call for Craft Beer?” In the piece, the founder of Boston Beer Company warns consumers about the trend of unenforced anti-trust laws, which has placed nearly 90 percent of the American beer industry into the hands of two mega companies: AB InBev and Molson Coors.
Bryan Roth, author of This is Why I’m Drunk, penned a piece for Good Beer Hunting called “Someone Tell Jim Koch About the After Party,” in which he speculated that Koch’s “doom-and-gloom” op-ed was a way to explain Boston Beer Company’s declining stock price, and get ahead of an upcoming Q1 earnings call: “Koch is a brilliant businessman overseeing a publicly-traded company.”
But Roth’s article missed something fundamental: Jim Koch is a goddamn American hero. Koch’s success has made it easier to attach nefarious or conspiratorial aims to his actions, or separate his established big craft brewery from the trend of local-focused microbreweries popping up over the nation. But few people, if any, have stood up for small craft brewers with as much grace, humility, and good humor as Koch. And because of his size, when Koch speaks, people listen.
It’s not the last call for craft, but it might be if macro beer companies are allowed to merge and buy smaller players with impunity.
Yesterday I sat down with Koch at a Starbucks in Washington, D.C., to ask him more about his position.
“Do you really think it’s the last call for craft?” I asked.
“You’re a journalist,” he said. “You know there are people who write the text and people who write the headlines. I wrote the text. I didn’t write the headline. Of course it’s not the last call for craft. But are the next ten years going to be as good as the last ten years? I don’t think so.”
The culprit? What Koch called “the facade of choice,” a term he borrowed from Bob Pease, President of the Brewer’s Association.
“You think you’ve got the same choice you’ve always had, but the tap handles are Goose Island, Bluepoint, Devil’s Backbone, Elysian, and Golden Road,” Koch said. “There’s no transparency.”
“You think you’ve got the same choice you’ve always had, but the tap handles are Goose Island, Bluepoint, Devil’s Backbone, Elysian, and Golden Road,” Koch said, referring to several “craft” breweries actually owned by one of two giant multinational corporations. “There’s no transparency.”
That’s Koch’s issue, and it should also be an issue for anyone who enjoys beer. Koch doesn’t think it’s a problem to buy anything made by Big Beer — in fact, at one point during our interview, Koch even spoke of his admiration for AB InBev, which he called one of the best-run companies in the world — but he thinks the government should stick to its anti-trust mandate by preventing monopoly-esque mergers and not allowing Big Beer to hide behind screens.
At the annual Craft Brewer’s Conference in Washington, D.C., many people expressed similar sentiments, but Koch actually had the courage to come out and say — publicly — what needed to be said. For that, he should be applauded, not questioned for his motives and sincerity.
Listen up, craft fans. Koch makes sense.