Felipe Szpigel: The Insider
Plenty of brewers can toil in their basements, perfecting an award–winning oatmeal stout, but only a very few have the means to turn one into a nationwide phenom. As the head of Anheuser-Busch InBev's The High End division, Felipe Szpigel's job is to identify craft gems, then bump up their batch sizes by a factor of 50 — or 500. Szpigel, from Brazil, has always been a beer man — he started pushing pints from behind a neighborhood bar at 18 — but it wasn't until InBev's $39 million purchase of craft darling Goose Island in 2011 that he realized the power of great beer. "I would say 99 percent of what I drank then was something similar to Bud," says Szpigel. At dinner with his co-workers shortly after the takeover, "it was basic food paired with beers," he says, "and I remember trying the barrel-aged Sofie and Halia — it was a religious experience." Szpigel, who was working as a marketing exec at the company, offered to lead a division devoted to acquiring small beers with huge potential. Since The High End was formalized in 2014, it's grown to include eight U.S. breweries (among them, Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel, and Elysian) and a portfolio of premium imports. Today you'll have a hard time finding a sports bar or pub that doesn't have at least one High End beer on tap. And by pushing their own beers, Szpigel's team is spreading the overall gospel of better brew. The High End works with the same American retailers that sell more than 30 billion AB InBev beers (Budweiser, Corona, Michelob, etc.) last year. So when the bars and restaurants that have never heard of a 60 Minute IPA or a Ruination begin to think beyond just the Bud, well, all beer drinkers win.