When you're at the bar, and craft beer options compete with cheaper, mass-produced ones like Bud Lite, you may think the consequences of your choice begin at your wallet and end at your taste buds.
You'd be wrong. And three recent events demonstrate just how far those consequences reach.
All three concern Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest brewing company in the world and owner of big brands Budweiser and Michelob, as well as craft labels Goose Island and Elysian.
The first event is the latest in InBev's craft brewery shopping spree: Asheville, North Carolina's Wicked Weed, whose world-class sour ale production fills a significant absence in InBev's portfolio of beer styles. Reaction to the early May purchase was so bitter that Wicked Weed had to postpone its annual Funkatorium Invitational sour beer bonanza because more than 50 breweries pulled out.
Weeks later came news of a second event: InBev cutting off supplies of South African hops to American brewers it doesn't own. The region's crop of the essential beer ingredient came under InBev's ownership last October, when it bought competitor SABMiller (formerly South African Breweries). InBev, meanwhile, argued that it was limiting hop supplies due to a low crop yield that season.
One bitterly cold January afternoon, Joe Shelton and Mark Grimaldi walked into Prison City P…
While InBev was finalizing its acquisition of SABMiller, the third recent event in its craft conquest quietly took place: It bought a minority stake in online beer rating community RateBeer. The move curiously wasn't announced until last week, and craft owners like Dogfish Head's Sam Calagione responded by accusing it of infringing on the site's independence.
Though the ratings come from customers, the potential for InBev to meddle with the site's data — or mine it to study consumer behavior — has been a concern of Calagione and other brewers. Many have even asked RateBeer, unsuccessfully, to remove their beers from the site altogether, in case some new InBev algorithm lowers their scores while inflating those of Budweiser, Goose Island, etc.
And one of the breweries that's been rebuffed by RateBeer is Prison City Pub & Brewery in Auburn.
That Dawn and Marc Schulz would act so swiftly to dissociate their brewpub from InBev, and to protect their surging brand from it, should hit home here in Cayuga County. That and InBev's recent actions should demonstrate the consequences of choosing between Big Beer and craft, and how much farther they reach than your wallet and your taste buds.
Because when you make that choice, you're not choosing between beers. You're choosing between ways of doing business — ones that either hurt or help the livelihoods of people in your community.
Gallery: Cayuga County's new craft beer scene
Four craft breweries have sprouted up in Cayuga County within the past year, and along with a new craft beer market, they've all seen sales surpass their original projections. Local brewers talk about what they have planned next and the state of the craft brewing industry.
What's on tap
Mike Sigona's Genesee Center bottle shop recently added three tap lines, going from six to nine elite-level craft beers available by the glass or growler there. At 7 p.m. Friday, July 7, Thirsty Pug will also be the site of "Zotique: A French Oak Story," which Sigona described as a tribal dancing and spoon playing performance by "YouTube sensation" Christian LeBrun. I'm just as intrigued and confused as you are.
Prison City Pub & Brewery
Brewer Ben Maeso is breaking in the State Street brewpub's new basement production space with a batch of his celebrated Mass Riot India pale ale, which should be on tap by the end of June. Prison City is also tapping a new IPA and a blonde ale with ginger, lime and raspberries within the next week.
New beers at the King Ferry brewery include a mango-infused version of its Goseface Killah gose, "which is flying out the door," co-owner Mark Grimaldi said. He and Joe Shelton have also prepared a new version of its Farmacy saison, with classic clove and spice character but more boldness and bitterness than previous versions. Their latest batch of The Ruckus IPA is also out, with more aroma due to heavier dry hopping. And an experimental Mexican-style lager, with sea salt, cilantro, lime peel and motueka hops, should be out by the end of June. Additionally, with summer arriving, the brewery has extended its hours until 6 p.m. Sundays.