For as long as people have been drinking beer and wine, beer has been regarded the inferior beverage. Wine is “classy,” it takes time to craft and age, a refined palate to appreciate, and is often paired with fine food. Beer is less expensive, often comes in a can, and you can find it anywhere. But, with craft beer now taking the center stage – even in Wine Country – many connoisseurs are heading out to explore hoppy drinks.
Last October Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired a minority stake in the popular consumer rating/review website RateBeer.com. This acquisition has raised a lot of questions and controversy around special interest and conflict of interest among breweries and press. There have been a lot of streams on Facebook where people are sharing concerns about what will happen to the RateBeer Best Festival. And locally, people who knew the folks from Ratebeer, the questions are, “why are we finding this out now if this acquisition occurred back in October, just before the Ratebeer Best Awards Festival.
After the dust has settled and the shock factor is subsiding, people are wondering, “what does this mean for RateBeer now” Many pillars of the craft beer community have spoken and the general consensus is many craft beer drinkers, industry professionals, and brewers just cannot support RateBeer any longer. Here are some thoughts from craft beer lovers and supporters from both our local area and across the U.S. RateBeer is utilized all around the globe by beer lovers and breweries to promote the beers people are enjoying along with reviews and ratings to share. Here is an insider look at what some craft beer supporters are concerned about with the recent news:
“The minority stake sale of RateBeer to AB Inbev is disappointing. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Joe Tucker and what he has accomplished over the years. That being said, AB Inbev is a company with a lengthy history of bad business practices and one that will do whatever it takes to destroy the competition. We must continue to be educated about, and supportive of, the businesses that support innovation and growth within the industry, not stifle it. Unfortunately, RateBeer is now among the AB Inbev family and I cannot continue to support it.” says Greg Coll, General Manager at Fogbelt Brewing and creator of Black and White Beer Ball an Ales for Autism fundraiser.
“I think the premise of journalistic integrity and ethics should be applied here, for sure.
At the end of the day, Joe has used RateBeer as a platform for dialogue amongst the community, facilitating discussions on how ‘big beer’ has actively hindered the industry. In my opinion he should have been completely transparent about the deal when discussions began, and if for some reason that was not allowed due to legal reasons, then that should have also been fully disclosed as soon as possible.” expressed Jeff bull, home-brewer and craft beer aficionado.
Betsy Pence from North Carolina is a craft lover, she comes out once a year to visit Russian River Brewing Company (RRBC) to get her Pliny fix. She expressed concern about the recent news of AB-InBev acquiring a minority stake in RateBeer.com, here is what she thinks, “ Talk about a conflict of interest! It’s causing a huge stir on the East Coast. Why can’t AB-InBev just stick to making shitty beer for the rednecks and college kids and stay out of the craft beer industry?!”
Dogfish Head Brewery owner and head brewer, Sam Calagione writes, “We were troubled by the announcement last week that ZX Ventures, which is fully owned by the global conglomerate Anheuser-Busch InBev, has purchased a portion of RateBeer. We believe this is a direct violation of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics and a blatant conflict of interest. The SPJ’s Code of Ethics includes a section called ‘Act Independently’ and includes the following guidelines:
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
- Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
- Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.
It is our strong opinion that ABI’s ownership of RateBeer, and other properties positioned to cover the craft brewing community like October and thebeernecessities.com is in direct conflict with multiple guidelines listed above.”
At the end of his statement, Sam shared this, “To our fellow independently-owned brewers, we encourage you to join us in this effort to ensure consumers continue to get the best and most accurate information about their beers. For everyone else, we encourage you to shift the sharing of your beer opinions and reviews to another platform that remains loyal to the principles of journalistic integrity. America’s Independence Day is just around the corner. Support the indie craft brewing movement!”.
Bear Republic fully backed Sam’s statement and posted one of their own including the the very same information, “Along with other independently owned breweries, we have respectfully asked RateBeer to remove anything pertaining to Bear Republic from their website effective immediately.” As a family/independently owned company for twenty years, their opinion holds a lot of clout in the craft beer world. Bear Republic is asking their consumers to please utilize a different platform for their beer reviews and ratings.
“We don’t want our consumers to feel like they are being deceived or misinformed in any way and do not want to be a part of something that allows us as a brewery to manipulate what is being said about our company and our beers, when it’s supposed to be a 100% consumer based and user-generated platform.”
Brewbound.com posted an article announcing that the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) – one of the most popular “basket list” beer festivals has banned all large beer companies from being able to buy a spendy sponsorship for the event. This means that all Ab-Inbev, Miller-Coors, and even Lagunitas will not be able to be a sponsor who is granted premium access and placement at the event. GABF is following the Brewer’s Association’s definition of a craft brewery when determining who will be allowed to be a sponsor. The Brewer;s Association (BA) defines a craft brewery as:
“a small (less than 6 million barrels), independent (less than 25 percent owned or controlled by an alcoholic industry member that is not themselves a craft brewer) and traditional (a majority of beer volume is made using traditional or innovative brewing ingredients; FMBs are not considered beers).”
This is a BIG deal. This marks a huge shift in the craft beer industry. People in the industry in many capacities are sharing their concerns and expressing that they will not support RateBeer.com any longer. What does this mean for you, the consumer and beer reviewer? Well, any craft supporter has a decision to make, now that RateBeer is a part of the “big beer” family, will you support them?
As a craft beer writer and lover myself, my first thought was, “I hope their website will get a face-lift out of the deal” and it did, it is much better and more user friendly, but I will no longer look to RateBeer for beer news or post reviews on the site.
WOOT! I am beyond excited for two reasons: I can imagine how important this moment is for Natalie and Vinnie Cilurzo, opening their new brewery completely, 100% on their own without investors, and also, this is less than one mile from my house! I’ll just have to figure in a nice walk before going there so I can work off the calories of my beloved Blind Pig IPA before I drink it there! 🙂
The town of Windsor is thrilled to welcome them and they say they expect to be opening around Fall of 2018. Stay tuned for more details. In the meantime, here are some photos in my article on Sonomamag.com of the ground breaking ceremony a couple of weeks ago. Thanks to my wonderful husband, Tim who made many sacrifices and went down to take photo and video for me (there may or may not have been beer drinking involved for him :))
Russian River Brewing Co., russianriverbrewing.com, 725 4th St, Santa Rosa, CA 95404, (707) 545-2337, @RussianRiverOfficial