A week after fourteen craft breweries split off from the Colorado Brewers Guild, which has represented the interests of state beer makers for two decades, Breckenridge Brewery and its new parent company, Anheuser Busch InBev, have released a statement related to the situation.
Several of the breweries that left the Guild to form Craft Beer Colorado — including Odell Brewing, Left Hand and Epic Brewing — cited Breckenridge's continued membership in the Guild and the position of its president, Todd Usry, on the board of directors as one of many reasons for their decision to leave. AB InBev has waged a consistent war against craft breweries over the past two years.
"There has been a lot of talk lately about the current state of craft beer, especially here in Colorado. And there’s been discussion about Anheuser-Busch and Breckenridge Brewery. With that, we both felt compelled to share our views," reads the statement, which was signed by Usry and Felipe Szpigel, the president of the High End, the AB division that runs all of the craft breweries the conglomerate has purchased over the past two years, including Elysian, Goose Island, 10 Barrel and Breckenridge.
"First and foremost, we both respect the Brewers Association and all of the state brewers’ guilds across the country. Some have shifted to drawing a line in the sand when it comes to independent breweries. From our viewpoint, this is divisive rhetoric and a distraction on what should really matter, namely the desire of all brewers to continue driving beer forward, both here in Colorado and across the country.
"Beer as a whole needs direction, and our mutual perspective is we need to focus on the challenges facing our category, together. With all of the noise the past few days, a key point that has been overlooked is a willingness to work together as a community. All of us make our living in the beer industry and, we hope, love drinking great beer. From that foundation, only together through passion and providing the best experiences can we move past the divisiveness and discuss a path forward that is inclusive, not exclusive.
"When it comes to participation in the Colorado Brewers Guild, or any state guild, our viewpoint is simple:
We support beer and local guilds, whether at the state or local levels."
Read the rest of the letter at the end of this story.
The Guild membership is currently voting on whether to allow Breckenridge to continue to have a voting role on the board, but there isn't a vote on whether to exclude them entirely. Usry's three-year term on the board expires this month, but another Breckenridge executive, Todd Thibeaux, is running to replace him.
"I really like [some Breckenridge Brewery employees], but at the end of the day, these guys work for Budweiser, and it's clear they want to win at the expense of craft," says Dave Cole, co-founder of Epic Brewing, which was one of the fourteen breweries that are part of the new organization so far.
Craft Beer Colorado was created by Odell, Left Hand, New Belgium Brewing, Renegade Brewing and Funkwerks. Wynne Odell of Odell Brewing and Brad Lincoln of Funkwerks resigned their positions on the Guild's board. Also in the new organization are Epic, Oskar Blues, Great Divide Brewing, Bristol Brewing, Mountain Sun, Grimm Brothers, TRVE Brewing, Four Noses and Wibby.
In addition to the Breckenridge concern, the breweries cited a desire for stronger leadership as reason for their actions, saying they want to to create an organization that “aspires to be open, responsive, proactive and effective on issues that impact its members.” These moves could deal a severe financial and political blow to the Guild, which is headed by longtime craft-brewing advocate John Carlson.
Carlson sent an open letter to the Guild's membership this week reacting to the move: "We are disappointed some of our members have elected to establish another organization as an alternate voice for the Colorado brewer. With the explosive growth of craft beer and the current legislative and regulatory issues before us, now is not the time to diminish our efforts but to strengthen them. Doing otherwise will result in less than optimal results. Multiple trade associations for Colorado craft beer will only confuse legislators and regulators, especially if they have different or competing tasks.
"There is strength in numbers, and we have the numbers," he concluded. "A strengthened Guild is the best way to remain an effective force in the industry."
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But that scenario may be unlikely. Craft Beer Colorado has extended a membership invite to the rest of the Guild's 220 or so members, along with the other independent craft breweries in Colorado. They will meet in July to hammer out bylaws, directors and a budget.
Meanwhile, the Guild will continue with its voting process, bringing in two new boardmembers as well as two others to replace those who resigned.
Here is the rest of the AB InBev/Breckenridge letter:
-We want Breckenridge Brewery, and any partner brewery within The High End, to be welcome in state guilds.
-We, as Anheuser-Busch and Breckenridge Brewery, are not asking for the right to vote. We simply want the ability to participate and join in discussions.
-We want to participate in, host and support craft beer events throughout the country.
-Most importantly, we want to provide knowledge and resources to other craft breweries – focusing on quality and safety. We’ll do this in Colorado by continuing to offer Breckenridge’s quality lab on a regular basis to local breweries who would like to come in and test their beers. We’ll also hold a safety or quality seminar every quarter at the Breckenridge Brewery in Littleton to any brewer who would like to attend, working together to identify the most important and relevant topics.
The partnership between Anheuser-Busch and Breckenridge Brewery employs approximately 1,600 Coloradoans and came together because both of us, at our core, brew beer for a living. Just like every other brewery in Colorado that is looking for support to continue to grow, Breckenridge wanted to partner with someone who is committed to the brewery for the long term.
We’re both positive about beer and celebrate the passionate brewers in Colorado who brew great beer and provide great experiences. As leaders, we want to stay above the fray and take a beer-first approach. We applaud all brewers out there who share this perspective and want to advance our community.
Those who speak negatively about either of our companies likely do not know what we stand for. There is heightened angst in the marketplace as the number of competitors within the beer industry continues to grow. Many times, the easiest thing to do is to find someone, or something, to blame.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is have an open dialogue. Rather than all of us running to a series of corners, perhaps we should come together for the industry, product and experiences we all deeply value and love.
We’re open, willing, and ready. Are you?
Todd Usry is the president of Breckenridge Brewery
Felipe Szpigel is the president of The High End, a business unit of Anheuser-Busch