Over the last few years, the notion of ownership has become a major issue in the beer world. Investments and acquisitions by giants like AB InBev and Constellation Brands, not to mention a host of venture capital firms, have made it increasingly difficult to know who’s pocketing the beer consumer’s dollar.
Debate among industry professionals and fans continues to heat up, and things have often gotten ugly. We’ve seen accusations and polemics, boycotts and protests. Attempting to stand out from corporate-owned breweries, the Brewers Association created a seal to certify members as “Independent Craft.” But in the months since, the seal itself has proven divisive, drawing almost as much scorn as the companies it’s trying to stand out from.
Ultimately, buying decisions are personal. Some consumers might avoid formerly independent breweries now owned by macro brands. Others might be biased against venture capital. And, admittedly, a large portion will avoid the issue altogether.
But for those who do care about ownership, the decision depends on information: as breweries accept capital investments or sell outright, it’s become a daily struggle to understand who’s behind a bottle, tap, or brand. Many beer fans – myself included – have already become overwhelmed trying to remember who owns what.
To combat this problem, I developed a diagram to track US brewery ownership. I’m no graphic designer, but I’ve tried to create something that can satisfy curiosity or serve as a reference to inform buying decisions.
Check out the PDF in an app that allows you to zoom and scroll easily. The graphic is split into three sections:
- The Big Boys – large beer or beverage corporations like AB InBev
- Breweries – any company that operates primarily as a brewery and owns other breweries
- Venture Capital – holding companies and other private investors
I sincerely doubt that this graphic is comprehensive, and it could quickly go out of date. If you see breweries that are missing or hear some news, comment below or tweet me @sipwatchlisten
But before you do, a few important caveats:
- This graphic applies primarily to US breweries, though I did include international companies that brew in the country.
- A “brand” is not a brewery: one physical site and group of brewers can brew beer sold under any number of names, and one brand might be brewed in multiple locations. Where relevant, I’ve included some notable brand names to help illustrate that relationship.
- I did not include Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). In this scenario, a brewery gets financing by selling a percentage (usually not 100%) of their stock internally. Notable breweries with ESOPs include Deschutes, Harpoon, Left Hand, Odell, and New Belgium.
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