A while back – let’s call it late last year – there were rumours going around that a few Japanese salarymen-types had been hanging around 4 Pines’ headquarters in Manly. People began speculating that 4 Pines was about to be sold to Asahi, like Mountain Goat (once Victoria’s largest independent brewery) was the year before.
If there was a deal, it seems to have fallen through. Today (September 22, 2017), 4 Pines announced it’s been purchased by AB InBev, the world’s largest brewing company. The multi-national owns brands such as Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Beck’s, Carlton Draught and Victoria Bitter. Last year it made a $4.5 billion profit. “The deal will enable 4 Pines to expand its operations and retain and grow their people, culture and identity. 4 Pines will continue to create its iconic beer experiences from its Brookvale and Manly breweries,” a press release says.
By now this sentiment – we’ll still be us! – borders on cliché for craft breweries that sell to international giants. And it does little to appease many beer geeks, who often value a brewery’s independence and local roots just as much as the taste of its products. Imagine Mary’s being bought by McDonalds or Reuben Hills by Starbucks and you have some measure of what this means. But maybe not.
Carlton United Breweries – itself an AB InBev-owned company – has a history of buying craft brands and slowly dismantling their original recipes and ideals. See: Matilda Bay and Fat Yak.
AB InBev has a better record. Since 2011 it’s purchased at least seven respected American breweries, including Goose Island in Chicago, 10 Barrel in Portland and Blue Point in New York. For the most part it seems to value leaving them as they are, but with access to better technology, more capital, wider distribution and stronger buying power. That last one is important when it comes to hops, where demand frequently outstrips supply.
Just ask the taken-over brewers and former owners. A cynic might say they’re just promoting their own businesses, but it’s not hard to believe they’re speaking from the heart, either. It's understood that 4 Pines will retain its management structure and 100 per cent of its staff, so perhaps we'll be hearing similar words from Manly soon.