Craft on Craft Violence or Normal Competition?

The story of the Twitter and then Beer Advocate forum rant from Tony Magee of Lagunitas Brewing aimed at Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company has been drawing a lot of attention, recently.  Magee accused Koch and Boston Beer of targeting Lagunitas market share with the release of the new Sam Adams Rebel IPA. 

From Time Magazine:

Last month, Tony Magee, owner of California‘s Lagunitas Brewing Company, sent out a series of Tweets that took exception to the release and marketing of a new brew that directly encroaches on its turf. The brew in question is Samuel Adams’ Rebel IPA, a “West Coast Style” beer that’s not unlike Lagunitas’s most popular beverage. What’s more, Magee said that Koch and the Boston Beer Company was crossing the unspoken craft brew line by putting Lagunitas and other brands in the crosshairs.

“Learned that SamAdams’ Rebel IPA marketing plans incl specifically targeting our biz as well as other craft IPA. Flattering & sad, it is,” Magee wrote in one Tweet. “BB specifically told our distribs in common that they were going t TAKE r tap handles everywhere they could,” he explained in another. “That’s a directed attack … Imagine someone threatening your children…”

The Tweets drew coverage on sites like Beer Pulse and kicked off discussions on Reddit and Beer Advocate. Many commenters felt that Magee was having a “tantrum,” and that he was whining about facing the kind of tough, direct, hardnosed competition that every business owner should expect. Others applauded Magee for speaking up, with the idea that all beer lovers have reason to worry about the efforts of the Boston Beer Company and others to squelch out the competition—which could eventually lead to a much less varied, interesting, and tasty beer marketplace.

Eventually, Boston Beer Company’s Jim Koch joined the Beer Advocate discussion, releasing a statement that he took “some offense to Tony’s other jabs and misrepresentations,” and most importantly, he denied that his company’s goal was to replace Lagunitas as a favorite choice of distributors and bars. “We don’t target other craft brewers,” he said. He also insisted that the we’re-all-in-this-together aspect ingrained in the craft beer business is very much alive:

I think it’s a shared responsibility of ALL larger, craft brewers to help those who are following the path we have worked hard to pave… We’re all lucky to be in the middle of a big growth curve for craft beer, and I am glad to see the growth. It’s certainly taken a lot of hard work by a lot of people both in the brewery and on the streets to get here. What’s unique about our industry is that it truly is a brother- and sisterhood. We all need to preserve that spirit as long as we can.


Yet according to Lagunitas’s Magee and others, it’s the actions of Koch and the Boston Beer Company that are destroying the craft beer world’s collaborative, congenial spirit. In any case, it appears as if the competition among craft brewers is bound to get ugly. “F*** them,” Magee Tweeted of Samuel Adams and the Boston Beer Company. “We’re ready. Drink what thrills ya…”
— http://business.time.com/2014/01/08/the-competition-for-craft-beer-drinkers-takes-a-bitter-turn/

Responses on the Beer Advocate forums have ranged from calling Magee's outrage a "tantrum" and that this is normal competition in a business environment, assuming that Sam Adams kegs aren't sold at a dramatically lower price to steer business owners away from Lagunitas.  Others have called into question whether the "craft" label should even apply to Boston Beer Company, given its tremendous size and resources and that Boston Beer is trying to use muscle to gain market share.

Personally, I think Magee is letting fear create keystrokes.  Assuming his distributor told him that Sam Adams was trying to take tap handles, Magee should know at this point that that is part of the game.  Whether it is Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada or Dogfish Head, all of those businesses want to have the opportunity to sell their beers to customers.  Tap handles are a means to do so.  Therefore, EVERYONE is ALWAYS targeting each other's tap handles.  Why would you want to create a popular beer style and not offer it for sale?  Would you hope that consumers would still prefer your competitor's products over yours?  YOU WOULDN'T!  In hoping Rebel IPA would take tap handles from Lagunitas, Boston Beer is saying that they are proud of what they've brewed and see it as a viable alternative to a very successful brand.  Should no brewery brew an IPA for fear that they might encroach on the market of another brewer?  

Now, the exception, of course, would be if Sam Adams was offering dastardly incentives to retailers or distributors in order to undercut the competition.  So far, there doesn't seem to be any evidence of that.  There is simply a successful brewery offering a product similar to one made by another successful brewery and HUNDREDS OF OTHER SUCCESSFUL BREWERIES.  

What do you think of the situation?  Leave your feedback in the comments below