The news of Anheuser-Busch’s purchase caused ripples of fear and loathing through the American brewing world. Jim Koch, co-founder of the Boston Beer Co., went so far as to label the move by the world’s biggest brewery a “declaration of war” and told a reporter he was going to re-watch The Empire Strikes Back because he had forgotten who won in the end—the rebels or Darth Vader’s men.
Anheuser-Busch’s purchase was a 25 percent stake in the Independent Ale Co., a Seattle outfit synonymous with its signature Redhook Ale offering. The year was 1994.
Similar fear and loathing, whether truly warranted, has gripped the American brewing world following the recent announcement that Anheuser-Busch, still the world’s biggest brewer (if under new ownership), was purchasing the 10 Barrel Brewing Co. out of Bend, OR, for an undisclosed sum. The move followed A-B’s acquisitions of the Blue Point Brewing Co. on Long Island earlier this year and Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing Co. in 2011.
Most of the concern over A-B’s purchase of 10 Barrel has touched in some way on its takeovers of Blue Point and Goose Island. Most consumers, however, including diehard craft beer fans, do not seem to realize how far back A-B’s interest in smaller, independent breweries goes.
Paul Shipman, a former wine salesman, and Gary Bowker, a writer who a decade before cofounded the coffeehouse that became Starbucks, opened the Independent Ale Co. in the summer of 1982 in an old transmission shop in Seattle. The brewery sold fewer than 1,000 barrels of Redhook Ale that first year; the introduction of a porter in 1983 and an IPA in 1984 boosted consumer interest, and soon the 5,000-square-foot brewery was at capacity.
By the 1990s, it was one of the biggest independently owned breweries in the nation making beer from traditional ingredients. Not only that, but Independent Ale was part of a first wave of initial public offerings in the modern era of American beer. On Aug. 16, 1995, the brewery began trading on NASDAQ for $17 a share under the ticker symbol “HOOK.”
One of the biggest shareholders was Anheuser-Busch, who had bought that 25 percent stake the year before for $18 million. That infusion, coupled with the IPO, not only provided Bowker, Shipman and their partners comfortable remuneration, but allowed the brewery to majorly expand. It’s still very much around, available in most of the United States, and Anheuser-Busch is still a major owner (though not majority owner as in the cases of 10 Barrel, Blue Point and Goose Island).
And the war that Jim Koch and others feared—Koch took to calling Redhook “Budhook”—never came. In fact, since 1994, the number of independently owned breweries using traditional ingredients has ballooned, as has the overall number of breweries in the U.S.
Moreover, a beer culture has arisen that, ironically enough, seeds the debate over whether it’s good, bad or neither that Anheuser-Busch has cut yet another deal for yet another smaller brewery.
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Tom Acitelli is the author of The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution. Reach him on Twitter @tomacitelli.