Golden Road Brewing

30 September 2015

End Of The (Golden) Road? When Your Favorite Beer Gets Swallowed By Giants

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Craft Beer Lover Before He Was A Drinker…

How should you feel when one of your favorite local brands gets snapped up by a giant multinational corporation? Shouldn’t you just feel giddy that a small-business owner hit the jackpot?

Well, try to remember when your favorite radio station got devoured by the zombies at Clear Channel. Or perhaps your charming regional bank got snorted up by a soulless Wall Street behemoth. Or imagine your favorite local restaurant or coffee shop getting purchased by McDonald’s or Starbucks. It’s the bland buying your brand, so no matter how much sense it makes for the owner, you feel like a part of your soul just got pimped out.

It just happened again to something near and dear to me: an independent brewery.

First, Let’s Trek Back To A More Innocent Time…

As a kid growing up in Oregon during the ’70s, I loved the local beer ads. (Yes, my inner-marketer was starting to show.) Of course I didn’t drink the stuff — I couldn’t even stand the smell. But my buddies and I could recite the beer ads as if they were Dr. Seuss tales.

Take this classic quaff or Oregon pride from brewery Blitz Weinhard, then based in Portland:

The trooper became a local folk hero, with the actor making guest appearances throughout the state. We all practiced our impressions of him.

We also enjoyed the surreal ads from Rainier Beer in nearby Seattle, including “Wild Rainiers” as denizens of the Northwest woods:

There was even a Rainier call, which my buddies and I practiced:

Also from neighboring Washington came Olympia Beer’s ads, which touted their artesian water — “artesian” means “well water,” but Olympia played it up as if “Artesians” were mythological beings (think gnomes). We would sing the Artesian song on bus rides to drive our teachers crazy… or just thirsty:

In fact, many years later, that jingle inspired me to initially name my agency The Artesian Brewing Company. I eventually switched to Atomic Tango, only because Artesian Brewing Company requires too much explanation and Atomic Tango is completely obvious. ;)

So what happened to all those great Pacific Northwest breweries with the funky ads?

Well, in the grand capitalist tradition, corporate monstrosities bought ’em up and shut ’em down.

Survival Of The Fattest

Despite the valiant efforts of the trooper, nothing could stop Miller Brewing Company from crossing state lines and swallowing up Blitz Weinhard’s Portland brewery (established 1856, shut down 1999). Today Weinhard is just a label outsourced by MillerCoors to Full Sail Brewing. At least Full Sail is an independent brewer in its own right… for now.

Likewise, Rainier (established 1884, shut down 1999) got snapped up by Stroh and, later, Pabst, which makes a rust-flavored liquid that only tasteless hipsters could love. Pabst now holds the once wild Rainiers captive in its L.A. operations.

Then there’s Olympia Beer (established 1896), which was acquired by Stroh then Pabst then Miller. The Artesians went extinct in 2003, and Olympia is now brewed with whatever water gets piped in lovely Irwindale, California.

Now all this ancient beer history would matter only to Pacific Northwesterners and craft beer aficionados… if it weren’t happening all over again. This time it’s transpiring in today’s hotbed of microbrews: Southern California (and I’m not talking about Pabst)… [continued on the next page]

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

10 Responses

  1. Years back (I’m thinking late’80s) we were visiting friends in Oregon but flying home from SeaTac. On our way from Portland to Tacoma, we stopped for a tour of the Olympia brewery. I carried home a 6-pack of Olympia Dark because it was only available from the brewery.

  2. Freddy, great article and well crafted (pun intended).

    Good luck in your search for a replacement craft beer. I’m sure, if nothing else, you’ll ensure the search period and having to endure drinking all that craft beer in search for your favorite new haunt.

    You certainly present a conundrum for what the small craft breweries are to do when presented with the golden ticket. Which you rightly point out is every entrepreneur’s dream. It is little wonder the big brewing behemoths sought out the local craft brewers when they were taking market share and with local micro-breweries popping up everywhere in every town in the last 20 years, I’m sure it only accelerated the ‘big-boys’ need to react. So reacting they are and big business gets bigger and a few smaller entrepreneurs are lucky enough to get their golden ticket stamped.

    So in the end, the cycle from small to big will continue. Small business is BIG. Meaning that there are over 28 million small businesses in the USA and only 11% ever make it to the 6 figure earning opportunities from their businesses. When small craft brewers get the opportunity to make that big leap, hooray for them and as you say, you’d make that same leap. Happy hunting Freddy and all the very best from your former RKC student.

    • retro

      Hey Stephen:

      Thanks for your comment and the great stat — only 11% make 6 figures! So, yes, selling out makes perfect financial sense for the entrepreneur. Indeed, buyouts are part of the incentive for many to start a business in the first place (I know many entrepreneurs who have no interest in running their business until retirement).


  3. Hey Freddy,
    Next time you are in the Palm Springs area stop by Babe’s Bar-B- Que & Brewhouse (in Rancho Mirage) they were just announced as Best Brewery in California. They are the oldest brewery in the Coachella Valley and it such a cool place to hang out.
    Let me know when you are there and I will pop in to buy you a pint.

  4. retro

    The L.A. Times just wrote on this topic:

    Craft brews are in great demand, and so are the breweries

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