The Biggest Little Brewery

Talk about a potential game changer—holy half pint!

Bogotá Beer Company Logo

Bogotá Beer Company Logo

That was my reaction to a May 6 blurb on just-drinks.com titled “Anheuser-Busch InBev snaps up Bogotá Beer Company in Colombia.” How the heck had “The biggest little brewery in Colombia,” the one that I visited with a group of craft brewers in 2011, just joined the same stable as Budweiser and Corona?

Of course I knew the answer, just like you do if you follow the craft beer business. Remember way back in 2011 when Anheuser-Busch bought the highly successful Goose Island Brewery and its pubs. Then they bought all or part of Widmer, Redhook, Kona . . .

Yes, I know, this is the same multinational macro beer corporation that, just as they were finalizing the deal to acquire Washington State’s Elysian last January, was taking a jab at craft breweries in that Super Bowl commercial about how Bud isn’t a beer to be fussed over.

Leslie and Hugo Patiño at Bogotá Beer Company, May 2011

Leslie and Hugo Patiño at Bogotá Beer Company, May 2011

Here’s the kicker: All this time when we’ve been talking about how AB InBev’s purchases impact / will impact the craft beer scene, we’ve basically meant the U.S. craft beer scene.

As recently as a decade ago, when we discussed the demise of regional breweries in the U.S., we talked about the Big Three left standing: Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors. Today, when we talk about the Big Three—AB InBev, SAB Miller and Heineken—we’re talking worldwide.

So, is the Bogotá Beer Company purchase a new global phase of AB’s U.S. strategy? If so, what does it portend for fledging craft brewing cultures in countries where the pool of consumers who can afford craft beer is a fraction of that in the U.S.? In addition, here, craft brewing organizations have worked for years to educate state and federal lawmakers about the industry and to pass needed legislation. Few other countries have that extent of legal and political support for the craft industry.

Interestingly, AmBev, the Latin American arm of AB InBev that acquired BBC, also announced in February that they would be teaming up with Wäls, a Brazilian craft brewery to create a line of craft beers.

So, some basic facts about Bogotá Beer Company:

  • It’s the oldest craft brewery in Colombia, started by founder and CEO Berny Silberwasser in 2002.
  • Silberwasser created a chain of trendy, upscale restaurant/pubs for exclusive sell of his beers. Today there are 27 pubs in five Colombian cities.
  • BBC’s annual production now exceeds 21,000 barrels.
Juan Carlos Torres and Hugo Patiño at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, Portland, Oregon

Juan Carlos Torres and Hugo Patiño at the 2015 Craft Brewers Conference, Portland, Oregon

Small wonder AmBev came courting. There’s one more interesting bit of information. Bavaria, which has 98% of the Colombian beer market, is owned by SAB Miller. With BBC, AmBev gains a toehold in the Colombian market.

I emailed Juan Carlos Torres, general manager at Master Beer, a craft brewery in Bogotá, for his take.

“The news was a surprise here in Colombia since nobody even considered that this could happen. It’s too soon for commercial reactions, but what’s being said is that, in addition to continuing the BBC model, AB InBev’s underlying interest is to get an opening for its beers.”

Torres continued, “I think two things could happen:

  1. BBC could lose strength in the craft market if they (=AB InBev) decide to go after the macro market, which would leave space in the craft market and that would be good for us.
  2. BBC could grow the craft market even more, which would create a greater craft beer culture and ultimately benefit us also.”

For additional reading in Spanish, Torres recommends an article in Semana, “Pasos de animal grande para el negocio cervecero” (“This Beer Business Walking like a Big Animal).”

“Truthfully,” he concluded, “I think this move is going to be good for craft beer in Colombia.” Let’s hope that the future is as positive as Torres anticipates.

 

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