Saturday, December 3, 2011

CT Column 5/10/2011: Does it matter who owns a brewery?

A fortnight ago it was announced that the Australian brewing giant Fosters was to be sold to London based South African Brewing giant SABMiller.
This has caused considerable consternation across the Tasman where it is being heralded by some as a sign of ebbing national identity. Here in NZ our two major brewing companies are both internationally owned, Lion by the Japanese Brewing company Kirin who is in turn owned by Mitsubishi Motors, and DB which is owned by the Singaporean Asia Pacific Breweries who are in turn owned by the Dutch brewer Heineken. When ever one of these companies is sold there is always a lot of nationalistic toned hyperbole and wringing of hands. There are local brewers who seem to think that the nationality of ownership is important with customers with some stressing their local credentials. For me the beer in the glass is always more important than any surrounding issues and inordinate talk of ownership sets alarm bells off in my head in the same way as brewers who talk more about their water than beer. However that’s not to say that ownership doesn’t matter. At an independent craft brewery level a sale to a major brewer often results in a dumbing down of the beer and an increasing reliance of style over substance. There are exceptions. A prime example being the Mac’s beers which I would argue have increased in character under Lion Nathan ownership. For me the most important thing is what influence the owner exerts on the beer being produced rather than their nationality.
This latest sale does form what is becoming a concerning trend towards larger and larger brewing giants. There are already plans by the world’s largest brewer AB InBev to purchase SABMiller something that would mark the biggest cash take over in history and result in one company controlling a huge percentage of the world’s beer production.
As far as the Fosters sale goes it doesn’t look like there will be much in the way of practical change as far as we are concerned. Of the Fosters beers imported into New Zealand the lightly hoppy Matilda Bay Fat Yak would be my pick. I would love it if the change meant the introduction of the more characterful Matilda Bay Alpha Male Pale Ale but I won’t be holding my breath. Cheers.

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