Opinions about the Boston Beer/Dogfish Head deal announced yesterday are a mixed bag, ranging from dread to, well, “let’s wait and see.” So far, I haven’t heard anyone outside of either brewery get terribly excited about the $300 million merger/sale.
Three quick observations:
1. There are an awful lot of beer freaks who really don’t like either Sam Adams or Dogfish Head. The former I can understand – it’s the big guy (at least in craft brewing), and nobody likes the big guy (even if it makes the likes of Boston Lager, Utopias and Sam Adams Double Bock). But I just don’t get the disdain I hear about Dogfish Head. People literally compare some of their beers to paint thinner, which is ridiculous. The brewery was built on so-called “extreme” styles, including 90 Minute IPA, Indian Brown Ale and dearly departed Raison D’Etre, which are indisputable world classics. Yes, tastes change and the tiny brewery with people standing in line for the latest hazy IPA is the Hot New Thing. But Dogfish Head is as innovative as ever and dismissing it out of hand is just stupid.
2. I’m not hearing a lot of “sellout” talk about Dogfish Head. Certainly not to the level that we heard about Wicked Weed or any of the other ABI acquisitions. I think that’s largely due to the leaders of the two breweries. Jim Koch of Boston Beer has been a true apostle of craft beer, supporting home brewers, start-ups and others with generosity, supplies and business education programs. And Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head is simply a good guy – and a lot of people have experienced that on a first-hand basis over the past 20 or so years.
3. In any of these big money deals over the years, has the beer itself improved? Ballast Point, Oskar Blues, Lagunitas, Terrapin, Anchor, even Victory; heck, go all the way back to Red Hook in 1994. Post-deal, can you really say the beer has gotten better? Maybe better branding, wider distribution. But flavor? At best – as in the case of Ommegang/Firestone Walker under Duvel Moortgat – the beer has held its own. At worst (Southern Tier, Goose Island), it has declined.