Anheuser-Busch InBev just sold eight of its “craft” beer brands, including 10 Barrel, Redhook, and Widmer. But what does it mean?
Anheuser-Busch InBev continues offloading its craft beer brands. The latest dump involves three Northwest-born brands: 10 Barrel Brewing, Redhook Brewery, and Widmer Brothers Brewing.
Those brands, along with five others, were just sold to a company called Tilray Brands. Who’s that? Tilray is the largest cannabis company in the world, a company that already owns a few craft breweries: Montauk Brewing, SweetWater Brewing, Alpine Beer Company, and Green Flash Brewing.
With yesterday’s news, Tilray Brands becomes the fifth-largest craft brewer and fifteenth-largest overall brewer in the United States. Of course, as always, the definition of “craft brewer” is a point of contention. (When owned by AB-InBev Redhook is not a craft brewery, but when owned by Tilray it is? Yes, by definition that’s true.)
By virtue of the deal announced yesterday, Tilray Brands now owns:
- 10 Barrel Brewing Company
- Redhook Brewery
- Widmer Brothers Brewing
- Shock Top
- Breckenridge Brewery
- Blue Point Brewing Company
- Square Mile Cider Company
- HiBall Energy
- Montauk Brewing
- Alpine Beer
- Green Flash Brewing
How did we get here?
In the USA, Anheuser-Busch InBev’s shipments decreased by 15 percent last quarter, largely (not entirely) because of the performative boycott waged by conservative beer drinkers in response to the company’s loose affiliation with a transgender social media influencer. There is no direct correlation between that fact and the offloading of these eight breweries. AB-InBev’s current struggles in the U.S. are well documented. Declining stock prices, etc.
Anhueuser-Busch InBev had already begun to jettison craft breweries before the whole Bud Light/Dylan Mulvaney debacle hit the fan. Worldwide, AB-InBev is not suffering at all; international profits are up, so you shouldn’t shed any tears for the beer behemoth or begin to celebrate its ruin.
The real story here is Tilray Brands. Why is the world’s largest cannabis company meddling in the realm of craft beer? It’s an ambitious plan that Tilray kicked off three years ago.
Last year, Tilray’s President, Irwin D Simon, told Forbes Magazine, “I very much want us to be a branded consumer products company, focusing on adult-use cannabis, medical cannabis, the beer category, the spirits category, and where it makes sense, we will have infused food. Our strategy is very different that anybody else out there. There are no cannabis companies that own alcohol brands today. We will continually look for companies and brands that have an established presence that we can build into a powerful portfolio.”
Redhook, Widmere, Shock Top, an established presence.
Tilray Brands has said that, with this transaction, it expects to triple the size of its beer business from 4 million cases per year to 12 million cases per year. Moving forward, Tilray looks to further capitalize on the potential of its beer brands through product innovations, retailer partnerships, and expanded distribution into key markets, including California and the Pacific Northwest.
Cannabis-infused beverages, and THC-infused beverages, are on the near horizon and Tilray knows it. Such beverages already exist in some places, but they’ll become a thing nationwide in the future. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are not for sale. Rehook and Widmere were for sale, so Tilray bought them. And all the others.
What does this whole transaction –AB-InBev offloading eight of its craft brands– say about the state of the craft beer industry? Well, the way I see it, this is just one more sign that the industry is changing. It is evolving into something that does not pencil for a huge corporation like AB-InBev. There are bigger fish to fry, like the rising popularity of non-beer alcohol beverages, and the increasing number of people avoiding alcohol altogether.
Craft beer is evolving (devolving) into a more and more localized thing. It’s big business, yes, but it is only big business because it consists of over 9,000 small players. There’s really no place for Shock Top in the beer aisle anymore. When retailers pull a beer like Redhook off the shelf, they replace it with a truly local craft beer, a ready-to-drink cocktail, or one of the many other non-beer beverages. Eventually, inevitably, they’ll replace it with THC-infused sparkling water. That’s where Tilray comes in.
Redhook, Widmere, Shock Top, and all the others offer Tilray an established presence. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Tilray hopes to make a fortune from its foray into craft beer. Just like Anheuser-Busch didn’t.