Editor’s Note: For background information on Crispin Ciders read Heavy Table’s interview with Joe Heron or visit Crispin’s website. To find information about the sale of Crispin Cider to MillerCoors, please visit A Perfect Pint.
As the US continues to dig itself out of a recession that stretches back to 2008, American companies and small businesses are slowly beginning to turn the corner. The recession affected many industries throughout the nation from financial institutions, construction, and automakers to brewing. The big two brewers in the US, MillerCoors and A-B InBev, have not only seen stagnant growth in some years, but saw domestic premium sales fall by nearly 8%.
While the domestic lagers that dominate the American beer market suffered falling sales during the recession, the craft brewing sector has repeatedly seen growth in volume and sales. In my own estimation and in those of craft brewers I have spoken with over the past year, the increases in craft beer sales are the result of a more discerning public that has greater access to different choices along with the fact that a pint of craft beer is an affordable luxury in times of economic insecurity.
The Big Two have acknowledged the growing trend toward craft beer and in the past ten years have bought their way into the market with the purchases of craft breweries around the nation. The most recent acquisition was the sale of Goose Island Brewing Co. to A-B InBev in 2011, which the Midwest Beer Collective covered in two editorials. Now, Minneapolisbased Crispin Cider has been bought by MillerCoors to tap into the craft cider market.
As a Minnesota native and craft brewing proponent, it was discouraging to read about MillerCoors buying Crispin Cider. The message it sends to craft drinkers and brewers alike is that Crispin isn’t interested in its craft status, nor having a regional pride, but rather growing their market share the fast and lucrative way: joining the ranks of a marketing giant. With the acquisition, MillerCoors now controls one of the major national players in the cider market, rival to Woodchuck Cider, meaning Crispin will have a leg up on independent cider makers with its access to MillerCoors resources.
Of course, questions of quality are at the forefront of this buyout and are not easily addressed. On the one hand, there has not been a decrease in the quality of GooseIsland’s brews: 312 tastes the same now that it’s brewed in New Yorkas it did when it was brewed in its namesake Chicago and their bourbon barrel series are still regarded as some of the best in the country. On the other hand, beers like Hoegaarden and Killian’s Irish Red suffered from becoming a part of the big brewing conglomerates. We can only speculate as to the quality of Crispin Cider in the future, but what we do know is that its fate is ultimately in the hands of MillerCoors and not Crispin.
It may come as a surprise, but I’m not saying that this buyout is such a bad thing. The larger craft breweries that cash in and bulk up with the help of the major players leave behind a niche they can no longer fill. In the craft brewing world, drinkers are drawn to unhampered innovation and they tend towards independent brewers. The breweries that incorporate themselves into the large conglomerates forgo the latter and put the former in the hands of their new owners. While Crispin will supposedly hold much of its former independence, when push comes to shove, marketability of their cider will trump the monetary risk of innovation.
Where Crispin is likely to lose out is the craft drinking segment that takes pride in drinking independent, innovative and truly craft beer and cider. Hopefully, like in the case of Goose Island and the subsequent boom in the Chicago brewing world, the void left by Crispin Cider will allow smaller up and coming cider makers to fill the voids and give cider drinkers a greater variety to choose from and, subsequently, a tastier experience.
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