Craft beer's most talked about investor sheet gave Midwest macro beer a toehold in San Diego this week when Miramar-based Saint Archer Brewing sold a majority stake to Chicago-based Tenth and Blake, "the craft and import division of MillerCoors." Of course, MillerCoors is itself a conglomeration of historically huge brewery corporations responsible for making beer both light and lite, for which it's become the second largest beer manufacturer in the nation.
This came right on the heels of the news that 30-year-old Petaluma craft beer company Lagunitas had sold half its stock to Dutch company Heineken for a reported $500 million. Terms of the Saint Archer deal have yet to be disclosed, but the Wall Street Journal offers an estimate of $35 million.
Well, that almost seems cheap, right? Except Saint Archer launched less than two and a half years ago, so to achieve anywhere close to that kind of valuation cannot be considered anything short of breathtakingly successful. At least from a business standpoint. Several local craft beer enthusiasts have not taken kindly to the news.
Saint Archer has had an uneasy relationship with San Diego beer fans from day one, precisely because its business model suggested this sort of sale was inevitable. A partnership of professional skaters, surfers, snowboarders, photographers, and filmmakers, the company was custom built for marketing prowess. The owners got their social media followers to drink the beer by the case.
Now, the haters are speaking up to call Saint Archer's craft credibility into question. Headlines range from bemused ("Big Beer swallows another craft brewer") to appalled ("Saint Archer Surrenders its Soul to MillerCoors"). As always, tweeters don't mince, freely bandying terms like "sellout" and "boycott."
Some statements get critical of the beer, like a guy called Gus declaring, "Good riddance, Saint Archer, never really liked your beer anyway." But quality's never really been the problem. Saint Archer White won a deserved gold medal at last year's Great American Beer Festival, and the company's Mosaic IPA gets social media love on the reg. More telling is a later Gus tweet: "They were in it for the money and not the love of beer. They did it all wrongggg."
Then there's this one: "Saint Archer has always been about branding more than great beer...and haven't cared much about SD locals." That may be a reference to Saint Archer's one big social media stumble, when it felt compelled to apologize San Diego Padre fans for this foot in mouth Instagram: “No sports team in California has supported Saint Archer more than the Dodgers… #GoBlue.”
So rule one in setting up your highly marketable, macro-bait brewery in San Diego is don't piss off the home team. What Saint Archer's sale really does is tarnish the narrative — the unbound success of San Diego craft beer, locally owned and operated, sticking it to the big guys with superior flavor, and beer made with heart. The good news, and the reason it's all gonna be all right, is that we've got like 114 other craft entities to choose from, and many of them are just individual brewers making a go of it on a small scale, or small partnerships of friends or spouses. And about 96% of them brew excellent beer, and some of them even brew exceptionally great beer, and it's all still being served in every neighborhood, on a daily basis.