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Late last year, Ballast Point Brewing Company sold to Constellation Brands, an international conglomerate, for a cool $1 billion.
It was a clear notification: Craft beer is no longer a cutesy novelty that your nephew loves. If you weren’t convinced by the county’s brewery count surpassing 100, or actual economic impact reports estimating the value of the industry being comparable to Comic-Con, a transaction of that size should have done it.
And 2016 saw Jacob McKean, CEO of Modern Times Beer, emerge as a voice willing to speak candidly about what’s happening in the maturing industry.
In September, McKean published an acerbic blog post on his company’s website offering a harsh rebuttal to the canned responses that often follow when giant beer company purchases a small one. The post was blunt to the point of comedy and went viral, sinking his website’s servers.
His point was simple: People sell their breweries because they can make a lot of money by doing it. That might bother you or it might not, but that’s the motivation for the decision. It isn’t, as brewers often say, about infusing their company with the capital to be more experimental, higher quality or access to better ingredients.
“Here’s the truth: selling to a macro-brewer is the fastest, simplest way to turn equity in a craft brewery into cash. That’s the only reason to sell to them. Anyone who claims otherwise is full of shit.”
He also, in an episode of the Voice of San Diego podcast, demanded more from beer reporters, often all too happy to uncritically relay those talking points.
San Diego remains one of the country’s hotbeds for craft beer. As the industry grows, there will be more major sales. Companies people care about will go out of business. Popular breweries – like Stone Brewing earlier this year – will be forced to lay off staff.
The time for industry cheerleaders is over. A real industry needs real voices of dissent – and reality. McKean stepped into the role this year.