Capping off a week-long barrage of media coverage pitting craft brewers against big beer, The Washington Monthly published an epic piece detailing the history of beer industry consolidation in the U.S. and future implication. Though the article has been met with plenty of pushback (read the comments), it makes for an entertaining read and you may learn something from the history that author, Tim Heffernan, lays out. Excerpt below…
In the United States, the problem so far has not been one of vertical integration like that found in the UK. Here, the story so far has been mostly about horizontal integration—of one brewer buying another.
To be sure, the typical American beer drinker might have a hard time realizing the extent of horizontal consolidation that has already occurred. The shelves of your average gas-station convenience store offer not just Bud and Busch and Miller and Coors but Stella and Hoegaarden and Shock Top and Rolling Rock. At any decent grocery, Kirin of Japan sits beside Boddingtons of Ireland, Peroni of Italy beside Pilsner Urquell of the Czech Republic. Basses shadow Red Hooks in the lea of Goose Islands. Blue Moon shines down on it all.
But all is not as it appears. Two giant companies— Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors—own, bankroll, produce, control, or have distribution rights to all of these brands and hundreds more.