CVIndependent

Thu10222020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

It’s not easy to know exactly where your money is going when you buy something. Some large corporations take great care to intentionally obscure this knowledge, at least when looking at products superficially. You might despise a certain large conglomerate, and vow to boycott it … only to later find out that the paper towels you bought are made by a company that is wholly owned by that same conglomerate.

For decades in the craft-beer world, we didn’t have this problem: If you liked the beer you were drinking, you could find out who made it by looking at the label—and that was that. Well, the craft-beer market steadily grew … until the bigger boys in the industry could no longer stand by and watch its massive market share erode.

The plan was simple: Buy up craft breweries around the country.  

“What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. Not a single thing … at least not from a business and legal perspective. Lagunitas Brewing Company, the renowned brewer in Petaluma, sold half of the company to Heineken in 2015, and then sold the remaining half in 2017—yet the beer’s quality remains just as good as ever, and consumer costs have gone down. What could be wrong with that?

The short answer: Plenty. As for the longer answer, we’ll come back to this later, because now I have to try to make a relatively dry concept somewhat interesting: the three-tier system for alcohol in the U.S. At least it has an interesting origin, in the shadows of the Prohibition era and the Roaring ‘20s. In that decade, saloons popped up to serve the sinfully thirsty public, and many of them were “tied houses,” meaning an alcoholic-beverage supplier would pay a saloon to exclusively carry their products. Upon Prohibition’s merciful appeal, federal and state legislators saw the problem with this and sought to institute a system to protect the consumer from tied houses, encouraging free-market activity. Thus, the three-tier system was born: Breweries (or alcoholic-beverage makers more generally) would sell their products to consumers through a distributor that acts as a middle man.  

Benefits and drawbacks to this system have popped up in the ensuing years. One the biggest benefits is to smaller breweries: They have the possibility of getting their beer into other markets relatively easily, thanks to a distributor’s expanded network. This could allow a brewery to gain fans in places it previously might have never been known.

There is a dark side: AB InBev and Molson Coors have become the equivalent to The Empire in the Star Wars movies when it comes to craft beer. AB InBev is the massive multinational conglomerate and parent company to all of the Anheuser Busch and SABMiller beers, as well as many other brands. (Yes, that nasty yellow stuff is owned by foreign corporations. Don’t ever be fooled by the ridiculous beer commercials pasting American flags on everything.) Molson Coors is at least half-American, and I think you can guess which half. The company’s M.O. seems to be combining marketing and packaging efforts, as well as streamlining processes within the company. This allows them to produce the exact same product, no matter where you’ll find it in the world. It’s a feat of engineering, really, and something to be admired for what it is worth (and it’s worth billions for them), but what about the … uh ... taste?

Now we come to “branches”: Large breweries own distribution affiliates in select markets. While legal, it is plain to see the problem with this setup: These distribution affiliates can strong-arm local businesses into essentially becoming tied houses. “Oh, you’d like to carry (fill in the blank) brewery’s beers? They’re not in our portfolio, I’m afraid. And if you do carry them, we’ll pull all of (our popular but bland) brewery’s beers. If you want craft beer, though, you’re in luck! We have some in our portfolio. So what if we stomped on the quality of their beers in an attempt to make them more cheaply and more efficiently (with the exception of Lagunitas/Heineken … for now)?”

These conglomerates count on your ignorance of the origins of the beer you’re drinking. This isn’t anything to be ashamed of, by the way: Beer aisles are an absolute labyrinth, and nobody should be expected to stand around Googling who owns what. However … did you know that Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewing is owned by AB InBev? Don’t be surprised; AB InBev owns at least 400 beer brands.

This mess inevitably spreads to the shelves. It’s why you might see packages of varying sizes and shapes of Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors, Miller Lite, etc. More shelf space equals more eyes on brands, which equals more sales. It has a distinct, anti-free-market whiff about it, doesn’t it? It’s also why these conglomerates spend ungodly sums of money on commercials that either dazzle you with visual stimuli, distract you with humor, or talk about all of its beer’s attributes without mentioning a single taste descriptor: “Hey, this beer is cold-filtered, crisp and golden? Those are my favorite flavors!”

At this point, a craft-beer fan needs to make up his or her mind. You don’t need my permission to spend your hard-earned dollars on any brand over another—but if you’d like to continue to see craft beer thrive, and become more interesting and exciting with each new beer released, join me in moving away from the products by the breweries that have sold out to Big Beer, and instead support the absolute glut of breweries that have not done so. The Brewers Association recently created the Independent Craft Brewers Seal, which qualified breweries can apply to their labels. (Note, however, that the seal is not yet being used industry-wide, so if a beer does not have the seal, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s being produced by a brewery owned by one of the large conglomerates.)

Since we’re in Southern California, I’ll mention a couple of breweries that have sold out.

AB InBev owns Golden Road Brewing and 10 Barrel Brewing. The latter is out of Oregon, but opened a large restaurant and taproom in downtown San Diego—something that was a topic of great contention in a county with 150-plus breweries. If you’re in San Diego and find your way to 10 Barrel, you’ve really overlooked some amazing, independent brewers within a stone’s throw (no pun intended).

Constellation Brands owns San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing. This buyout was a big deal in the industry when it occurred in 2015 due to the $1 billion price tag. At least Constellation is an American company; it also owns Corona, Modelo, Pacifico and many other brands. However, there are so many true craft breweries within a very short distance of any Ballast Point location where you could have a good or better time.

Go forth; stay vigilant; and drink wisely!

Brett Newton is a certified cicerone (like a sommelier for beer) and homebrewer who has mostly lived in the Coachella Valley since 1988. He currently works at the Coachella Valley Brewing Co. taproom in Thousand Palms. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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The Rhythm, Wine and Brews Experience is back on March 5 with an amazing lineup of bands, wine and brews.

Live music, craft beer from 48 breweries and amazing wine from 21 wineries will be enjoyed with the scenic Empire Polo Club as the backdrop.

Kevin Olsen runs Adam’s Bottle Boutique in Redondo Beach; he is the RWB beer curator.

“This year, we have a more unique selection of breweries,” he said. “Some are a little less mainstream, with some smaller breweries that are more artisanal and craft-driven. Last year, we definitely took a step in that direction.

“Belching Beaver came out this year, (as did) Strand Brewing; Ritual Brewing, which is a little closer, is an Inland Empire brewery.”

Here is more information some of the breweries that will be rockin’ this year’s Rhythm, Wine and Brews. Get more information at www.rwbexp.com.

10 Barrel Brewing: This is a favorite in Oregon and a multiple Great American Beer Festival medal winner. There are satellite brewpubs in Boise, Portland and Bend.

Anchor Brewing Company: This brewery is dripping with history: Anchor began during the California Gold Rush and was the first to produce steam beer—effervescent beer now labeled California common beer. Anchor is the only steam-brewing company still in operation.

Ace Cider: Did you know cider is fantastic to cook with? Use Ace cider in place of champagne to lighten up your dishes, and consider Ace Apple with your next pork dish!

Ballast Point: This San Diego brewery is a homebrewer’s fairytale come true. Founder Jack White opened Home Brew Mart in 1992, after wanting more quality and unique brewing ingredients for homebrewers to use. Ballast Point opened their “back room” brewery, behind the shop, in 1996. In November, the UCLA students turned brewery owners sold to Constellation Brands for $1 billion.

Sierra Nevada: Ken Grossman, the godfather of craft beers, opened a homebrew supply store in Chico in 1976. He purchased whole cone hops from Yakima hop brokers directly and began brewing his now infamous hop-forward beers. He launched Sierra Nevada Brewing three years later.

Green Flash Brewing: Green Flash opened Cellar 3 last year, a new tasting room and specialty brewing facility in Poway. The facility focuses on innovation through barrel-aging and wild yeast experimentation.  When not sipping something sour, try the Soul Style American IPA. Citra, Simcoe and Cascade hops are layered, giving it tropical and sherbert flavors. It’s a perfect warm weather beer.

Breckenridge Brewery: Colorado’s third craft brewery began thanks to a ski-bum homebrewer in 1990. Today, Breckenridge’s beers can be found in 32 states. In true outdoorsy form, the brewery put nitro—nitrogen-carbonated beer—in cans late last year.

Three Weavers Brewing Company: The female-run brewery is Los Angeles’ second Kickstarter-funded brewery. Brewmaster Alexandra Nowell was the former lead brewer at Drakes and won two GABF bronze medals while brewmaster at Kinetic Brewing Company in Lancaster.

Coachella Valley Brewing Company: CVB, as we locals like to call it, answers the call for a bigger selection of sophisticated and modern beers here in the valley. Head brewmaster and part owner Chris Anderson is a graduate of the University of Alaska-Anchorage Culinary program. Anderson brews using local ingredients. CVB started a sour program in 2015, and the Profligate Society features sours like the cabernet-barrel-aged Epineux Poire prickly pear wild ale.

Babe’s Bar-B-Que and Brewhouse: The Rancho Mirage restaurant and brewhouse was founded by Marie Callender’s founder, Don Callender. Don had a passion for craft beer and opened two small breweries in 1998 and 1999. Babe’s later opened in April 2002. In 2014, the Belgian Vanilla Blonde Ale took gold at the Great America Beer Festival.

La Quinta Brewing: One of the valley’s three local brewers opened its doors in the fall of 2013. And after much success and popularity, it recently opened a taproom in Old Town La Quinta.

Goose Island Brewing: Goose Island's brands are sold in 24 states and parts of Europe thanks to the Anheuser-Busch InBev deal in 2011. While craft-beer geeks across the country cried in their beers over the deal, their Bourbon County Stout has remained world class.

New Belgium Brewing: This is one of the coolest breweries on the planet. The New Belgium folks not only advocate for beer, they advocate for the planet. Tour de Fat is New Belgium’s traveling party regarding all things bicycle: In every Tour de Fat city, one awesome role model will step on stage to trade in his or her car keys and pledge to live car free for one year. Oh, and the brewery is now 100 percent employee owned.

Black Market Brewing: Black Market launched the craft movement in Temecula’s wine country. It recently brewed a Rum Matured Deception With Pineapple. The “normal” Deception is a coconut lime blonde ale. Black Market releases a new beer on Cask Night, every Monday.

Lost Coast: Lost Coast began in 1990, in a 100-year-old castle in Eureka, Calif. Barbara Groom, a pharmacist turned homebrewer, now owns the 43rd-largest craft brewery in the U.S. Have a friend who hasn’t turned to craft yet? Give them a pint of Great White.

Founders Brewery: If you haven’t fallen in love with Founders, you don’t have a heart. This brewery is ranked as one of the top breweries in the world by Ratebeer.com over the last five years. If you haven’t tried the Breakfast Stout, you haven’t lived.

Speakeasy Ales and Lager: Speakeasy hales from San Francisco. Last year, a new 60-barrel brewhouse was made with a malt handling system, fermenters, a centrifuge and a canning line were installed. Production capacity increased to 90,000 barrels per year.

Bootleggers Brewery: Orange County craft-beer darling Bootleggers was established in 2008 by husband and wife Aaron and Patricia Barkenhagen. They brew the popular Mint Chocolate Porter.

Firestone Walker Brewing Co.: I can’t say enough good things about Firestone—and neither could the Great American Beer Fest last year: Firestone took a silver for the Feral One in the Belgian-Style Lambic or Sour Ale category. The brewery also brought home two bronzes: for the Hammersmith IPA in the English-Style India Pale Ale category, and thr Sour Opal in the Wood and Barrel-Aged Sour Beer categories. Then, Firestone was awarded golds for the Pivo in the German-Style Pilsener and the DBA in the Ordinary or Special Bitter categories. It only made sense that it was awarded the Mid-Size Brewing Company Brewer of the Year awards.

Bell’s Brewery: Bell’s was founded by Larry Bell as a home-brewing supply shop in 1983. It ranked eighth in total volume among all domestic craft brewers in the U.S. in 2010.

Barley Forge Brewery: This was the OC Weekly Best Brewery in 2015. Barley Forge specializes in Belgian, West Coast and German-style beers.

Brew Rebellion: This brewery is true to its name: Brew Rebellion brews beer 30 to 50 gallons at a time. That means an awesome rotating tap list and more specialty beers.

Coedo Brewery: Japan’s Coedo names beers after five classic Japanese hues. Coedo honors traditions: The brewers allow the first sip of beer to fall to the ground from the tanks, as a tribute to the brewmasters who came before them.

Einstök Brewing: This brewer is located just 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in the fishing port of Akureyri, Iceland. All Einstök beers are 100 percent vegan, with no GMOs.

Clown Shoes: Funny name, great beer. Check out American black ale dubbed “Lubrication.” The label features a robot at a gas station holding a pump handle in his groin vicinity. Fun tidbit: The artist is a woman.

Pizza Port Brewing: Pizza Port serves delicious craft beer in Solana Beach, Carlsbad, San Clemente and Ocean Beach. Each of Pizza Port’s four San Diego County brewpubs won at least one GABF medal last year.

Hangar 24 Craft Brewery: Located at the end of a dusty road, with the San Bernardino Mountains serving as a backdrop, Hangar 24 is named after the hangar where owner Ben Cook—a licensed pilot—and his friends would relax after a day of flying. Fun fact: Much of the equipment in Hangar 24’s main brew house came by way of Las Vegas’ Monte Carlo Casino.

Pizza Port Brewing: Pizza Port serves delicious craft beer in Solana Beach, Carlsbad, San Clemente and Ocean Beach. Each of Pizza Port’s four San Diego County brewpubs won at least one GABF medal last year.

Mission Brewery: Mission Brewery was originally established in 1913; like most breweries of the time, it went out of business during the first year of Prohibition. The revived Mission Brewery is now in the East Village in downtown San Diego in the historic Wonder Bread Building.

King Harbor Brewing Company: This is first production brewery in Redondo Beach. Last June, it opened the Waterfront Tasting Room, joining Los Angeles craft-beer-bar icon Naja’s Place on the International Boardwalk.

Belching Beaver Brewing: This is a dog-friendly brewery in North Park, San Diego. The Beavers Milk, Milk Stout took a gold medal at the World Beer Championships in 2014 and 2015. Their Dammed! Double IPA also took a gold at the World Beer Championships in 2014.

Strand Brewing: Torrance’s first production brewery has grown so much since 2009 that it moved to Old Torrance last October. Strand Brewing, Monkish Brewing, The Dudes Brewing and Smog City Brewing are all within a short Uber ride from each other.

Deschutes Brewing: Deschutes is awesome—and it’s family owned and operated. The company even set up an employee stock ownership program in 2013 so employees can own a percentage. If you try anything from Deschutes, try The Abyss. It’s a world class, 12 percent alcohol by volume imperial stout.

Alpine Brewing: You may already know Green Flash and Alpine merged in 2014. Green Flash is about 20 times larger than Alpine. Alpine couldn’t previously meet the demand for its popular IPA. Now it can.

Angel City Brewing: Angel City has a special place in my heart: When I first started writing about beer in 2008, I met Michael Bowe, the founder of Angel City. He’s since sold it and is sailing around the world, but the brewery continues to thrive in downtown Los Angeles.

Ironfire Brewing Company: John Maino and Greg Webb met at Ballast Point in San Diego and decided to start their own brewery in Temecula—and Ironfire was born in 2012.

BarrelHouse Brewing Co.:BarrelHouse not only has fantastic beers (Sours!); it also offers beautiful views from the inviting Central Coast patio. The just-announced 2016 Curly Wolf is maple vanilla bourbon-barrel-aged Russian imperial stout.

Rock Brothers Brewing: Music and beer are this brewery’s mantra. Creating custom brews for bands is the focus: It made 311’s amber ale beer.

Elysian Brewing: Elysian was founded in Seattle in 1995. Try the Avatar Jasmine IP brewed with died jasmine flowers.

Golden Road Brewing: All of the beers are delivered in cans. Canned beers stay fresher longer without light oxidation, and they are better for the environment. Anheuser-Busch Inbev acquired Los Angeles’ largest craft brewer last September.

Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment: Acoustic started brewing in 2012, but the building that houses it has more than 100 years of American brewing history: The original facility housed Mission Brewery, which operated before Prohibition.

Karl Strauss Brewing Company: Strauss was former vice president of production and reached master brewer at Pabst Brewing Company. He, Chris Cramer and Matt Rattner started the first-ever brew pub in San Diego in 1989.

Lagunitas Brewing Company: The brewery that brews in Northern California and Chicago sold a 50 percent stake to Heineken last September in an effort to expand the brand globally.

Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider: The Rev. Nat West started making cider in his basement, and in the spirit of craft beer geeks, grew into to a business that now distributes in five states.

Ritual Brewing Company: This Redlands brewery was founded by Owen Williams and Steve Dunkerken. Williams is a former brewing operations director of BJ’s Brewhouse and teaches at California Polytechnic University. Dunkerken is a Redlands native and long time homebrewer.

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