Hoarding and zombie beer: How big beer is trying to strong-arm its way to victory

Beer is probably one of the most refreshing drinks to have on a hot night. Cold, crisp, it’s ancient recipe perfected through the generations as each round of humanity takes a shot at making the nectar of the gods. I am not going to tell you what to drink here, I’ll leave that for your snobby beer friends (I might be one), but what I am going to talk about here is how AB (Anheuser Busch) InBev is trying to stick it to craft breweries by using methods that date back to the 1920s.

In total they own 32 brands worldwide, making AB the largest beer manufacturer in the world. There is nothing wrong with owning companies and making a product that people want, but what is wrong is when you use dirty tactics in order to ensure that you are at the top. In the U.S. there are a few hundred, if not thousands, of craft and micro breweries and many of these breweries go after numerous types of beer. None have mastered the yellow piss beer flavor that has been the national standard for decades like AB and the other major beer makers. That isn’t to say microbreweries hate it, I can’t speak for them, but it’s just not their flavor.

Making these odd concoctions takes something called hops. Hops are a flower that is used in brewing almost all beer and imparts onto the drink a citrus or bitter taste. Depending on how much you use you can make a vast assortment of beer and that usually means having to use a lot of it. Using hops to pave a way to victory, breweries like Modern Times, Firestone, New Belgium, Green Flash, and Stone have either teamed up to make fantastic beers or have kept the distribution of it fairly even. The community within the craft beer scene is truly fantastic and very profitable as more and more craft beers have begun to take a vast amount of shelf space in the beer isle.

This hasn’t made AB happy as they’ve seen a large slide in sales and have resorted to using dirty tactics that range from buying a large stake in RateBeer (Without disclosing it to the public) to straight up shaming. Just watch this commercial:

Because if you don’t like Bud you’re the other and being the other is bad. Don’t question. Consume. Also, that tagline “Brewed the Hard Way” what’s hard about it? Do their brewmasters sit up to 3 am babysitting a batch because of poor refrigeration as the beer maker can’t afford to buy a new fridge? That’s the hard way as far as I can see it, and from what I can tell, AB isn’t doing anything the “hard way.” Seeing the ad above backfire, they then switched tones and I have to say, whomever made this ad did a very pretty good job.

Even with these ads trying to leverage their heritage or their use of a specific kind of tree in their brewing, AB found their sales only slowing and they weren’t the only big beer company to feel this pain. Instead of trying to out-do these scrappy craft beer makers, they decided to move for a more sinister approach by hoarding hops and buying out craft beer makers so they can turn around and sell their beer at rock bottom prices.

The pettiness is about as bad as our current political climate, meaning this is at 12 year-old levels of revenge. Oh, you like G.I. Joe? Great, I’ll go to every store in town and buy them all and keep them at my house. I hate them, more a Action Man man myself, but if you can’t have any, then I am all the merrier! And you make tie-dye t-shirts? Oh, that’s nice, but I bought another tie-dye shop and I am selling their organic blended shirts at half the price you’re selling them. I’m not making a profit, I’m just doing it because you suck!

This is what a multi-million dollar enterprise does when they’re being beaten at a game they’ve had cornered for half a century and frankly, it’s garbage. Hoarding hops is straight out of the 1920s, but the zombie breweries are next level. The term zombie, in the context of this industry, are craft breweries that are acquired by a big beer company and then used to undercut the market. Jacob McKean of Modern Times has this to say about the topic, “Not quality, not making dreams come true, not sharing information. The goal is to destroy craft beer from within by operating acquired breweries as zombie brands that wreak havoc in the marketplace long after the life has been squeezed out of them.”

When you walk into a bar and see a handle of Saint Archer on tap, you’re thinking you like Saint Archer and will get some. Except that keg of Archer was sold at super cheap pricing in order to drive out craft breweries that are also competing for tap space. If you’re a bar owner and you have the choice between Stone IPA or Saint Archer IPA, but the latter is half the price of the former, you’re going to go with the latter.

This is how big beer is choosing to win, not by innovation, but by starving out craft breweries or buying them out. It’s sad, but in the current state of American affairs this isn’t out of order as more and more craft companies are being bought out. If there’s one thing Disney has taught corporate America it’s that when you can’t innovate, just buy your way out of trouble.

Resistance is futile, prepare to be assimilated, I’ll take a Lagunitas.

Special thanks to Robert Binns for telling me about this topic.



I write made-up fun and factual stories. Fighting sea monsters for donuts. Find the rest of my work at www.NickMazmanian.com.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Nick Mazmanian

I write made-up fun and factual stories. Fighting sea monsters for donuts. Find the rest of my work at www.NickMazmanian.com.