If a craft brewery 'sells out' do they still make craft beer?

Monday, April 9, 2018
Mike Neilson panhead brewery
Sell out?
Craft beer, this, craft beer that.

You can't escape the word these days. Craft beer is all the rage.

But if craft beer is so popular and widely sold in supermarkets and bars, is it still craft beer?

If a craft brewery 'sells out' do they still make craft beer?

Craft beer apparently accounts for 10 - 11 percent of the American beer market. I suspect the numbers for New Zealand are getting up there.

Further, if the larger, more traditional breweries are buying up boutique beer companies and breweries, are they still making craft beer? 

Well, it all depends on your definition. If your definition of a craft brewer is a beer brewer that is small, independent, and traditional then their produce can be called craft beer. 

Sometimes they are known as microbrewers as they produce limited production runs of beer.

So basically then, craft beer is made by small (!) beer enthusiasts who own and run their own show.

By that definition, Wellington NZ appears to be craft beer capital of New Zealand. 

It feels like you can't cross over to a street corner without passing by a brewery. Which is a good thing actually because Garage Project do some of the best beers I've ever tasted and there's a Panhead bar just down the road from work. 

Speaking of Panhead...

A couple of month's back a rising star of the beer brewing scene in Wellington was purchased by a traditional brewing company, Lion Nathan (famously known for brewing Steinlager). The local guys were Panhead, who in a space of a couple of years had made a fine name for their themselves both locally and the wider country. Their Supercharger is one of the finest beers around.
supercharger beer bottle image

There was a minor uproar at the purchase

'Sell outs!' cried craft beer lovers. 

'They'll change the beer!'

'They'll stop making new beers!'

First up, let's not begrudge the Panhead owner, Mike Neilson his success . While they and other brewers are here to make good beer, they are also there to make a buck. 

Like every other man and his dog, they have mortgages and family to look after. If they can cash in, I say go for it, I know I would!

The cries of concern about craft breweries selling up are fair in that good established beer brands could no longer be made with 'the love' that the original owners put in. 

The new owners could fail to innovate or experiment. After all, a traditional hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation.

Look how often Garage Project come up with new beer style. Craft brewers are often found interpreting historic beer making styles and offering unique twists and styles. Or they completely innovate. 

So how dare the big breweries ruin good craft beer?

The answer is, they've learnt their lesson. In the case of Panhead beer, the former owner Mike Neilson was retained by Lion Nathan to stay with the company and he said:

"It will be business as usual, I will hand over the running of the company to business people. The best part is I will get back to brewing."

So will he still produce craft beer? 

Arguably Supercharger will still be Supercharger under his watch. Does the fact Lion Nathan who is in turn owned by one of the largest beer companies in the world (Kirin) mean that Panhead no longer makes craft beer?

Based on our definition they do not but to misuse a Billy Joel line, it's still rock and roll to me.

Panheads's APA beer is so popular that people have started to clone it - here's the Supercharger clone recipe.


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