Redhook Ale – A Craft Brewer Revolutionary
Posted on July 19, 2010 by mike
The second article in the Brewery Highlight Series for Redhook Ales. Click the link for more articles.
Yea, I said it, Revolutionary. Revolutionary, by definition is someone who “marked by or resulting in radical change.” Redhook Ale, is just that. You might be saying, “Oh, there are so many other beers out there, why would I drink a Redhook?” What you may not be aware of though, is that Redhook cracked open the the craft beer market and subsequently the boom in craft breweries and selections available to all of us fine craft beer fans.
I know that what I’m proposing is a pretty bold. You may be thinking “But they are partially owned by AB/InBev”. Although, AB/InBev has no control over what Redhook does it is more important that we look at the facts and a bit of history here to understand exactly why this seemingly harmless brand forged new ground for the beer we drink today.
First off, I am not saying that there were not already craft breweries around. Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Yuenling and a handful of others, all of which make great beer. So good, in fact, it is astonishing that two masterminds with no beer making experience were able to lay new ground for all brewers.
Reasons Redhook Is A Revolutionary
Imagine yourself, an avid homebrewer making some of your own delicious beers finally hearing that someone was taking the plunge to bring, fresh local, flavorful beer back to production and available for you to drink. I’d be pretty excited. I mean the whole reason a lot of people started homebrewing was because they wanted more options than just light lagers. Imagine the disappointment of the homebrewing community when this off flavor brew hit their lips. Imagine how upsetting it would be to know that the beer isn’t really that good, but for some reason the way it was marketed, allowed it to sustain and gain popularity. In all fairness, this really reminds me of Budweiser. A beer that a lot of people don’t like, but the way it is sold to the masses keeps it popular.
Imagine once again, hanging out with buddies, brewing beer and someone, somewhere has to say. “If these guys making off flavored beer can do it, why can’t we?” The idea isn’t new, it has been happening over and over for years now. How many breweries do you drink beer from, all started with a group of guys saying the exact same thing? Redhook’s marketing scheme and off flavored beer sparked a new generation of breweries to jump in to get their piece of the pie.
AB Deal – Good or Bad?
But this wasn’t the big one. This didn’t bring craft beer to North Dakota, this didn’t ignite the fire and turn it into an out of control blaze. That came in 1995 when Redhook did what no other craft brewer had ever done or would even speak of. They teamed up with Anheuser Busch. The controversial partnership set the town on a blaze.
A lot of people were mad, thought Redhook sold out. Redhook wasn’t local anymore and they were even seen as having sold their operations to A-B. That couldn’t be more further from the truth than anything. Redhook created a partnership with A-B to have access to distribution channels that no one else could possibly dream of. I can’t blame them for that, who really can? A-B holds the 3 tiered system at will and the old addage of “If you can’t beat them, join them” rings true here. However, Redhook still owned the majority, still developed their own recipes, still did things day in and day out as Redhook would do them, they just get to put their beer in AB/InBev’s warehouses.
The partnership deal went down and Redhook expanded to the east, putting more craft beer and more selection into other people’s hands. In the end, isn’t that what we all want? But there is a silent factor that never gets mentioned in the craft beer revolution in regards to this controversial partnership. When Redhook and A-B signed a deal and went public with stock offerings, the Craft Beer Gold Rush began. Peter Krebs writes in “Redhook Beer Pioneer,”
Redhook’s successful IPO marked a watershed in the specialty beer business, sparking a series of IPOs rom other specialty breweries hoping to follow in the wake of Redhook’s success. Within the same year, three other breweries went public. Two of them were the specialty beer industry’s largest brewers-Boston Beer Company, producers of Samuel Adams, and Pete’s Brewing Company of Palo Art, makers of Pete’s Wicked Ales. The third company, Hart Brewing Company, was the second largest specialty brewery in Washington.
This is not where it ended though. Small breweries were expanding all over the country. Once there was blood in the water, the corporate sharks feed, and these sharks were feeding on beer.
Redhook paved this road. They took a chance, marketed it right and made the right deals to show that making good beer is a viable business model. They busted the craft beer market wide open by not only inspiring avid homebrewers to “one up them” but also by creating one of the most controversial deals that not only brought hype, distribution and money to Redhook, but also lit the fire under investors and other brewers to get on board.
Redhook enjoyed substantial growth after their stock offerings. This would be the high times for Redhook. Life was good. An expansion out east with plans to build in the grain belt, record sales and a general overall good feeling would all begin to crumble. The question though, is it Redhook’s own fault? We’ll see in the next installment.