If you thought Anheuser-Busch InBev was only extending its reach into the craft beer sector by acquiring regional independent breweries, well, you were wrong.
In addition to recent brewery acquisitions such as Wicked Weed, Devil’s Backbone, and Golden Road, along with hop contracts, homebrewing equipment, and controversial beer-focused web magazines, AB’s strategic grasp has gotten hold of the tech space, acquiring a “minority investment” in popular beer review and rating website RateBeer.com.
The official announcement from RateBeer came in the form of a message from Executive Director Joe Tucker, posted on the website, on Friday, June 5. However, the deal has apparently been done since last year, when the companies decided to join forces but did not wish to publicly announce the news for fear of ruffling consumers’ feathers. (Beer nerds on the internet are a not a forgiving bunch.)
The announcement came three days after the website Good Beer Hunting published a tell-all article about the partnership before RateBeer stakeholders and admins were privy to the news. According to Good Beer Hunting, the deal closed in October 2016 after eight months of “talks” between RateBeer and ZX Ventures, a venture capital team backed by AB InBev. (Another AB division, called the High End, is the one responsible for craft brewery acquisitions).
On RateBeer.com, Tucker’s announcement reads:
Today we’re announcing that ZX Ventures has purchased a minority investment in RateBeer. The focus of the agreement was on maintaining RateBeer’s value as an unbiased beer authority, retaining our operational independence, informing a whole new group of global consumers and keeping them excited about the beer.
Similar to how brewery owners explain their decisions to sell, Tucker described the decision to work with ZX Ventures as a challenge and, ultimately, a relief. In his words, “I love RateBeer dearly and I love my work, but it’s been really nice not staying up all night working on servers!” Selling a stake means more resources, better infrastructure, and more opportunity. “I’ve never been more excited about RateBeer’s future and our ability to achieve new heights,” he said.
And, you know what, it makes sense. In the tech space, building a website from scratch, running it day and night independently and eventually gaining a strong enough following to become attractive enough to a multibillion dollar company is the ultimate dream. (Were you upset when Instagram was acquired by Facebook? Probably not that much.)
But craft beer is a passionate space, and while starting from scratch then growing enough of a following to become attractive to a larger company is commonplace in the tech world, craft beer consumers, as well as its leaders, don’t take these things lightly because of broader implications of what it means for the industry.
For example, Dogfish Head owner and craft beer pioneer Sam Calagione issued a statement requesting his beers be taken down from RateBeer’s website. This echoes the actions of several breweries who pulled out of a beer festival, Funkatorium Invitation helmed by Wicked Weed, just last month when the brewery announced that it had sold.
What does this mean for RateBeer users? Mostly nothing, other than the website being more properly staffed and able to respond to issues more quickly, Tucker said. Perhaps it could also mean more festivals and events organized by RateBeer, like the eponymous RateBeer Fest that celebrates craft brewers. Maybe with AB involved, the scope of these events and the businesses it celebrates will change. But if craft beer fans are concerned that the AB-owned beer data will somehow be favored, Tucker said that will not be the case:
ZX Ventures has the utmost respect for the integrity of the data and the unbiased service we offer to the entire community and industry. [...] Additionally, RateBeer Best became the premier worldwide international beer awards program and our festival one of the best in the world largely based on the simple and inviolable integrity of our computational methods and reliance on crowd-sourced reviews. This obviously won’t and cannot change, and thankfully we have loud opinionated critics in RateBeer’s ranks, and a data transparency initiative to ensure it never does.
Will RateBeer become owned and operated by AB? Who knows. We'll always have Untappd... we hope.