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What Selling Out Really Means in the Craft Beer Universe

One California craft brewery has tough words for Golden Road and others

Modern Times beer cans on a shefl
Modern Times cans

The craft beer world has been up in arms the past few days thanks to a blog post from none other than Jacob McKean, the founder of California's Modern Times Beer. In the public lashing of a certain segment of the beer industry — and of the writers who tend to cover it — McKean talks about what it really means to "sell out" to a big company like Anheuser-Busch InBev, using LA's Golden Road Brewing as a key example along the way.

The long post, titled What ‘Selling Out’ Is Actually About, starts off as a way to poke holes in a recent article on Serious Eats about breweries that decide to sell to the big competition. McKean refutes the original article’s seven varied claims about why selling out might make sense, from increased access to unique hop varietals to growth within domestic and international distribution channels. McKean also leans in hard on Golden Road specifically, calling them "the most lavishly funded start-up in craft beer history."

McKean refutes the seven varied claims about why selling out might make sense

The Modern Times owner goes on to take Meg Gill, co-founder of Golden Road who was largely responsible for the acquisition process, to task for saying that since the buyout "the margins we needed to hit on our beers are now gone." While meant to be a positive thing by Gill — as in, by being less focused on the bottom line Golden Road can be more innovative — McKean notes that in reality "this is the most predatory and ill-intentioned thing the macro brewers have done…The reality is that selling a product at or below cost is an anti-competitive business strategy intended to put smaller competitors out of business."

The whole thing is absolutely worth a read, as the Modern Times founder tackles one of the toughest subjects in the craft beer universe. McKean best summarizes the situation with the simplest answer:

Here's the truth: selling to a macro-brewer is the fastest, simplest way to turn equity in a craft brewery into cash. That's the only reason to sell to them. Anyone who claims otherwise is full of shit.

And with more money and investment being poured into craft beer in Los Angeles proper — including eventual plans for a Modern Times taproom and restaurant in Downtown — there has never been a better time to be thinking about where consumers can and should be spending their money.

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