Above all, and directly or indirectly, the InBev/A-B deal will provoke a a shakeup among craft brewers. The gone-to-hell economy alone would have sparked that ripple; the presence of InBev will simply speed up the process. (*1)
As part of their battle with each other, MillerCoors and A-B IB will go after some of the more attractive craft brewers. They’ll either offer a take or they will acquire the craft brewer outright. Sales of stakes and outright purchases have happened before: Redhook. Widmer. Goose Island. Leinenkugel (an acquisition that surely ranks as THE all-time best deal ever for the smaller guy.)
But in the next year or two (or three), we will also see what amount to lateral mergers: A craft brewer will look scan his competition, eye a particularly attractive operation, and think “Hey. I’d be better off with that person/company as a partner.” He or she will make an offer. The two will merge. Nor will these necessarily be “hostile” events.
There’s plenty of historical precedent. In the 1880s and 1890s, for example, a number of small beermakers formed mutually agreeable “associations” (in effect, mergers of stock and/or property and/or brands) as a way to insulate themselves from Pabst, Schlitz, A-B, Ehret, Ruppert, and other giants.
So, too, the merger mania of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, when middling-sized brewers acquired and otherwise merged with brewers of the same or smaller size. Those were defensive moves. Indeed, you might say the ball is already rolling.
Consider the merger of the afore-mentioned Redhook and Widmer, to create an entity called Craft Brewers Alliance, Inc. (I love that name. It’s exactly the kind of no-name name that those “associations” came up with back in the 1890s.)
But of course this is craft brewing, not old-style mainstream brewing, and there’s one thing we know for certain: Craft brewers have reinvented not just the beer, but the industry, too. So we’re already seeing some creative defensive moves. Example-of-the-Month: The joint “adventure” between Elysian Brewing and New Belgium Brewing. You can read about it here. (But not, interestingly enough, at their respective websites. One of which gets my vote as the single most annoying website on the internet.) (*2)
When times get tough, a good defense can be the best offense. Creative or otherwise!
*1: For an overall view, see my earlier five-part series Looking Back At the Future of Brewing”. Hmmmm…. Five parts? God, I’m a windbag….
*2: I originally read about the Elysian/New Belgium venture at Charlie’s blog — so thanks, Charlie!