Headquartered in Bend, Oregon
It’s no surprise 10 Barrel Brewing OR is taking the West Coast by storm. Having been recently bought by Anheuser-Busch InBev (http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_27261786/sale-oregon-craft-brewery-provokes-backlash), the brewery is soaring to bigger markets and expanding outside its small timber town of Bend, OR with a fantastic lineup of IPAs and their flagship seller, a Cucumber Berliner Weisse. It was on a fateful frisky San Francisco evening that I had my first try of the beer samples and a “fireside chat” with the twin brother & owners, Jeremy and Chris, to discuss their experiences.
Having been on the road all week showing off their beers, the two were enthusiastic and up-front about their outlooks around recent business acquisitions, legal proceedings, future plans, and the years leading up to this moment. And before I begin, I think it’s important to point out how interesting and critical this piece was when you put it against the current battle between big beer and craft beer. With some journalistic intent in mind, let me first supply you with the appropriate contextual information.
First, if you haven’t heard about any of the hotly debated buy-outs, price imbalances, and over-the-top hate letters, I encourage you as a consumer to get educated by checking out links below:
Generally, consolidations are seem as harmful to the craft industry as it equate to more purchasing and distribution power to the “big guys” and less competitive advantage to the independent small brewers we all love. 10 Barrel isn’t the first to encounter a consumer backlash because of their business decisions and it certainly won’t be the last.
For Jeremy and Chris, acquisition was a no-brainer because it ultimately led to positive changes in the workplace with minimal changes to their current business model. As founders, the two very down-to-earth guys who enjoy the outdoors and adventuring, and they try to exemplify a comfortable workplace for their employees as well. When they first started, they recall the share of legal challenges one after the other and how common these problems are becoming for breweries on their size. Originally sued for being named Wildfire, their company pivoted to 10 Barrel and never looked back. Similarly, their current Joe IPA was originally called S.A.M IPA (Simcoe, Amarillo, and Mosaic hops), but that didn’t exactly pan out either. These issues are sometimes derailing to small businesses, especially when you’re short-staffed between brewing beer and attending to customers. I enjoyed hearing about how they overcame them with resourcefulness and quick wit.
Their decision was focused around the idea of safety and what this would mean for their business, families, and employees – I can certainly agree with that. That’s why I was fairly surprised when their contractual terms seemed really lax. “Not much has changed except that our employees are better taken care of in terms of pay and benefits”, says Chris. “We still choose to rely on our brewer’s freedom to brew and experiment with what they like, except now they possess a whole new level of equipment support and quality control”. Does this sound like the quality of their beer will spiral downwards? Probably not. Their business model will still continue to rely on each head brewer of a regional facility to operate independently of one another. This way “we’re always cranking out new stuff and keeping it fresh for our customers”, says Jeremy. And apart from the extra teleconference meetings they have to attend from time to time, they can get back to doing what they love, which is attending to customers and their needs.
Secondly, I’m personally very invested in small independent brewers who create passionate and creative beers. They’re the exciting reason I write about this to begin with because of the marketing impact I can have. At the same time, I probably would have never heard of, or tried, 10 Barrel Brewing unless I visited Oregon – likely true with many other consumers out there as well. Regardless, I think it’s ultimately inevitable that we will begin seeing consolidation where major players try to buy up smaller ones. It’s a natural part of the business world. But I also hope that this will serve as an inspiration for new players to enter as well. If one looks at the numbers, the overall total growth of US breweries & brewpubs was been incredible year after year, 10-15%, whereas Budweiser sales have declined almost 50% in the last 10 years.
When I see all the hate comments and animosity that’s out there about craft vs. commercial, it’s a bit saddening. I too get frustrated with the craziness and complexity of this industry from old legacy laws/ bills to over hyped beers, but as least we have the power to make a change – whether it's as a consumer or from within the industry (I see myself as kind of in the middle). But I wouldn’t hold a grudge against a brewery for making a personal, financial, or business decision you don’t agree with. Instead of asking, “why is this so expensive”, maybe asking “what makes this so expensive after all…is it the ingredients, time, or method of brewing?” will help you understand their decisions. And if it’s still not worth it to you, then there are plenty of other choices. At the end of the day, the choice to buy or make a difference is yours!
To end my piece, I hope to be seeing more of 10 Barrel around my neighborhood because they do amazing beers and I can't to see what else they might have to offer. I know Jeremy and Chris will continue cracking out new & exciting brews for us so thank them next time you see them!
Check out their website, Facebook, and Twitter and say hi!