The lines between what denotes "craft beer" and what denotes "big beer" have increasingly blurred over time; many of your favorite "craft beers" have already been gobbled up by the largest brew companies in the world, whether you know it or not. That paradigm shift has created something of an existential crisis for craft beer and the people who love it. For them, the question is whether "selling out" fundamentally changes the culture.
Enter the True Craft, a venture that's looking to do god's work: to save the soul of craft brewing.
Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, co-founders of Stone Brewing, announced the new brewery-saving venture last week. They want craft breweries to avoid Big Beer like Frogger avoids speeding cars, and they'll do it by purchasing stakes of craft breweries.
By buying up to, but never more than, 25% of breweries, True Craft will allow the purchased brewery to expand, improve facilities, and build on activities that'll keep that delicious golden liquid lubricating our best conversations. No borrowing from evil bankers, throwing in with venture capitalists more concerned about the bottom line than barley, and no dealing with the big breweries that might bring compromises of their own. The concerns of not selling out and retaining your soul in craft brew today mirror the similar issues confronted by punk rock in the 90s.
"This gives craft brewers another option to selling out to Big Beer," Koch said at the annual E.G. Conference. "This gives them the financing and flexibility they need to flourish while keeping their soul and control."
The group and unknown partners are funding True Craft with $100 million to start, and there's "a lot more in discussion," Koch told the L.A. Times.
So far, though, no one knows who the partners are, where True Craft will be located, what the process is, or what breweries are eligible to participate, among myriad other questions. Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association put a fine point on it to the L.A. Times, saying, "I don't understand it."
No one on the outside of True Craft seems to, but everyone is excited about the possibilities of keeping the craft brewery boom alive and focused on quality. "At least in theory, I love it," Tom Kiely, director of sales and logistics at Thorn St. Brewery, told the L.A. Times. "I think it's a really important step to combat the new challenges facing craft beer."
True Craft and Stone PR specialist Nickie Peña wrote to the L.A. Times about saving souls as well, saying that they're looking for breweries that "want to remain in it for the long haul, and retain their Soul and Control along the way; a brand with an excellent reputation and of like philosophical mindset (e.g., focus on quality); and have a need for an alternative investors and wish to join forces to compete more effectively."