Opinion: Daily Journal

Beer geeks upset with Wicked Weed should calm down and order something else

Startup entrepreneurs who sell to major businesses at a profit should be celebrated, not shunned

(CJ Photo by Kari Travis)
(CJ Photo by Kari Travis)

Good for Wicked Weed.

The Asheville-based brewer has sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev, which, like its counterparts, is gulping down craft brewers in an apparent effort to offset waning sales for Budweiser and other mass-produced adjunct beers.

Beer geeks aren’t pleased.

This week Wicked Weed said it will cancel its July Funkatorium Invitational after almost 50 brewers, who were to take part in the event, backed out.

The event has helped Eblen Charities, a nonprofit, provide families with, for example, medical and emergency assistance.

“[I]t has become clear that we can no longer host the festival with the original vision in mind,” Wicked Weed writes on its website. “We respect the decisions of those who have decided to no longer attend, and we understand that the impact of bringing this community together is more important than Wicked Weed.

“Just like the sour beer community, Eblen Charities is still of paramount importance to us. With that in mind, we will evolve the Funkatorium Invitational and host a reimagined festival to raise money for Eblen’s cause [Sept. 16].”

Beer drinkers — and many brewers — are upset about the perceived “sell out,” and many talk as if they have a stake in the company or a say in the brewers’ decision.

They don’t, but Wicked Weed’s owners did. And they decided to sell.

The idea that entrepreneurs toil and sweat and scrimp and save to build a business to achieve only limited profits and marginal growth is as naïve as it is selfish and unfair.

Wicked Weed makes fantastic beer, which, considering InBev’s purchase of the brewer, should be obvious. If, in fact, Wicked Weed had failed to build its brand and churned out mundane beer there would be no such interest from corporations with deep pockets and a willingness to pursue new strategies to compete.

So, why not capitalize on that interest? Why not take advantage of a free market that rewards entrepreneurship and innovation? What began as a family operation about five years ago could well gain a national and even international following.

That’s all good.

Will the product suffer? There’s always that possibility, but who knows?

Further, Wicked Weed jumped at the chance to distinguish itself in a bloated market.

The country had 92 breweries in 1990, according to the Brewers Association. Today, there are more than 5,000, including more than 200 in North Carolina alone, the ninth most in the nation. Asheville itself has around 30, and Raleigh will soon have that many.

The immense challenges of standing out in that crowd, building a brand, and gaining and keeping loyal customers can’t be discounted.

Craft beer aficionados will continue to eschew Wicked Weed, and that’s their prerogative, just as it was the brewers’ prerogative to sell to InBev. There are plenty of choices in beer.

But don’t view the brewers, who have contributed much to their community and the state, as bad people or “sell outs” or greedy profiteers. See them as smart business people who have done and will likely continue to do big things.

Regardless, who knows what happens next? The brewers may take the money from the purchase and apply it toward another venture. Maybe they’ll make an even more innovative and funky line of beers, because the InBev sale will allow them to do that.

Many people drinking craft beer today aren’t old enough to remember a time when craft beer didn’t exist. Instead of whining and complaining about Wicked Weed, they would do well to take in the infinite choices available. Taste, compare, buy, and drink up.

Then grow up. Or, order a Coors Light.