Interview with 10 Barrel Brewing Founders and Anheuser-Busch InBev CEO of Craft Brands (Part 2)

10 Barrel Brewing's Chris Cox (left) and Jeremy Cox

10 Barrel Brewing Co.Here we follow up where we left off last in part one of this two part interview series with 10 Barrel Brewing Company co-founders ChrisCox, Jeremy Cox, and Garrett Wales as well as Goose Island Beer and Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) craft CEO Andy Goeler. For those who missed the news that broke via a short YouTube clip by the 10 Barrel guys around 9 a.m. Pacific Standard Time on November 5, 2014, the response has come with a mixed bag of response ranging from empathy to sheer anger and calls for boycott. 10 Barrel, when the deal is finalized, will become AB InBev’s third craft brewery acquisition following recent purchases of Goose Island of Chicago and Blue Point Brewing of Long Island, NY.

To get yourself fully up to speed on our interview series with 10 Barrel and AB InBev’s staff, click here and check out our initial in-depth interview with these folks.

As promised, in this second of two parts, we turned the questions over to the folks who follow Brewpublic and those with craft beer interests on social media via Facebook and Twitter (Follow @BREWPUBLIC!).

Here’s a look at some of the opinions and questions that were presented during our exclusive sit-down.

I just saw a comment on another thread along the lines of “AB InBev Will probably start brewing 10 barrel beers with rice or corn syrup”  I’d like to hear a response to that!

Garrett Wales: It’s business as usual. Business as usual. Jimmy (Seifrit, brewmaster at 10 Barrel Brewing) is still using the same malt that we’ve been using for the past eight years, same malt purveyors, same malt contracts, same hop contracts, same brewers brewing the beer. I mean, we’re not changing anything. It’s the same brewmasters writing the recipes. It’s staying the same.

So no worker bees coming in and taking over?

GW: I’m sure Shawn (Kelso) would probably really appreciate that though (all laugh).

Andy Goeler: Angelo, a good response for you to write down: it’s crazy for us (AB InBev) to buy something like this and to come in and to change or mess up. It just makes no sense. We have NO PLAN at all to do anything like that at all. It defeats the whole purpose of why we bought it.

We’re still at a very early stage in this craft beer bubble, so isn’t it fair to say that it’s hard to say exactly what is going to happen?

GW:  A company like Anheuser-Busch can come in and buy land here wherever they want and probably build our brewery in about 60 days, maybe faster. They can build a brewery, bring in their ingredients, not their ingredients, buy cheaper ingredients and worker bees and start brewing beer…easily. But the investment is being made into 10 Barrel, into the team that we have in place, the culture that we have in place and the products that we’re putting out.

10 Barrel Brewing Co.

But it could be argued that you can’t build that passion from the ground up. You’d have to buy it after it has been built. 

GW: Exactly. So I think that’s an example as to why would they (AB InBev) make an investment in a company like 10 Barrel and then go screwing with that and go messing with that. If the intention was to mess with things, you could go fake it somewhere else. There’s no faking here. It’s an investment in what we’ve done we are going to maintain putting out an extremely high-quality product.

Note: a big question from the beginning was whether or not the head brewing staff of 10 Barrel would remain in place after the acquisition. The ownership group assures us that they will remain and that all are still on board and feeling positive about this new change. To the credit of AB InBev when it comes to Goose Island Beer, it seems that since the full buyout over two years ago, that the quality of the beer has remained spectacular if not gotten better, while the barrel-aging program has improved size-wise.

Will 10 Barrel be making more Belgian style beer now that you are Belgian owned?

(Laughter) GW: Timing-wise we actually have three Belgian beers in the tanks right now. So yeah, there’s three or four new Belgian beers coming out in the next month.

Will we see your beer on the FX show The League where there’s lots of InBev product placement?

Note: This is obviously a silly question as it is too soon to know. Further, surprisingly, we’ve yet to notice any Goose Island brews on The League and it takes place in Chicago.

A common question is reiterated: As a part of the purchase agreement, have you spelled out how you will maintain quality when Apocalypse IPA is brewed in a massive AB facility?

The ultimate downside to all this is the inevitable cheapening and industrialization of craft beer as it becomes a profitable commodity. (10 Barrel) sold for one reason and one reason only-the money. Not a bad reason necessarily, financially sound, but a hard one to swallow.

Jeremy Cox: About six months ago, we realized that there were some things that we were good at, we are one of the fastest-growing breweries in the nation over the past two years. We’re growing at an extremely fast rate. We realized we are good at things like brewing great beers, creating fun beers and hiring great brewers. We also realized that there are some things that we are not so good at like running a business, the efficiencies, and some of the bigger things that you have to hurdle when you grow so quickly. For us it was a pretty easy decision. We really went out there and we really tried to find a strategic partner that could help us out so we think that Anheuser-Busch is a perfect fit for us.

When 10 Barrel Brewing started was there ever a grand focus to one day sell to a company like AB InBev?

JC: No. When Garrett, Chris and I started 10 Barrel, in like an 8′ x 12′ office, our idea was to sell to three other buddies who owned restaurants in Bend. We always had aspirations of growing but we really just wanted to brew beer, drink beer, and have fun doing it. That was our passion.

GW: I think when you talk to people who were around then or any time for the first six years, (they will tell you) it was a passion. And it still is a passion. We’ve obviously read some of those (negative) comments, And you just can’t help but laugh. I feel incredibly blessed to have the brewery grow the way that it has and I think there was a lot of good in there. There was a lot of hard work. To the concept that there was this sort of grand design or grand plan, yt sounds to us kind of laughable because it was just working hard and taking things as they came at us.

More crowd-sourced questions, are you ready?

JC: (Jokingly) You saved the best for last didn’t you?

CC: I like how (Angelo, the interviewer) smiles about “one more round.”

Note: These guys are extremely easy to interview and open to any and all questions, so no matter what your opinion of 10 Barrel may be, you have to respect the fact that they do not in the least bit seem to be hiding a thing. I pull up my phone and locate my Twitter app to read most recent comments and questions regarding the newly announced acquisition. As the interviewer, I had not yet read any of these in advance. 

What was the sale price? What do they feel the biggest benefit for the consumer is?

A-B InBevGW: The terms of the transaction are currently not being discussed at all. But the biggest benefit to the consumer, for sure, is the resources being put behind the brand: more great beer, new beers, the brewers already have beers that they want to get into bottles, pub beers that we didn’t have enough hops for. It’s definitely the resources, creativity, and the opportunity that provides the brewers the opportunity to just turn things loose and keep going.

So no ballpark figure on the sale price for 10 Barrel to AB InBev at all? Can’t give us anything? Not even close?

Silence. Shaking of heads (no).

$100. Off the record (laughing)

What was their biggest concern going into negotiations? What are they most excited about?

JC: I think it’s the same thing right? Employees. Honestly, I think our biggest concern that the beginning was our employees. And what were most excited about is how much you guys care about our employees. The most important thing as we got into the negotiations was we are not buying pop ups we are buying your guys’ company so we want to make sure everyone’s comfortable with this deal and that you guys are comfortable with this. Really it was a commitment from our company to see if you are sticking around so we can keep doing what were doing. I think all three of us are really excited that Jimmy, Tonya, and Shawn are still going to be running the R&D side of 10 Barrel. Mark Carver and Mayme (Berman) are still going to be selling the beer here in Portland (Mark and Mayme were present for this interview). The company’s intact and it’s business as usual.

Did you tell Whitney (Burnside, new hire) before offering her the job? Has Tonya resigned yet? Note: question asked by a female beer writer.

JC: No, Tonya has absolutely not resigned.

CC: Tonya is the most excited one. She’s the head of our R&D in Bend so she has the opportunity to brew more sours and keep on doing what she’s doing and doing really cool stuff and now she’ll have the resources behind her to push it even further. So I think they’re all really, really excited about the opportunity. Whitney as well. I talked to Whitney. I first talked to Whitney today; I was listening to the conversation. Everyone is really excited about the opportunity.

Will any of your beers ever be brewed in facilities owned by AB InBev (other than regular 10 Barrel ones)?

10 Barrel Brewing Co. Beer No. 1 - Image 1Note: This issue was already mildly addressed.

The only question that really matters is will they still brew delicious beer?

All (without hesitation): Yes! Yes! 100%!

JC: And that is the only things that matters.

More crowd-sourced questions come up regarding Tonya and Whitney staying with the company. 

JC: I think it’s important to note that it’s not just about Tonya and Whitney, it’s about everybody, it’s about Jimmy and Bobby and Shawn…

GW: All of our brewers have the freedom to brew unique beers and they do it all the time, every day.

What prompted this sale? What’s the plan of dealing with the backlash from the craft beer scene? Note: this question from a Northwest brewer.

GW: I think there’s a lot of shock right now for sure. The beer audience in the Northwest is incredibly passionate. There’s no doubt about it. It’s such a great market so I love to be here for sure. As far as how to counter that, what we are asking for is for the people to let the beer do the talking. absolutely. And to see that now were saying a lot of things that sound really promising and so are our partners at Anheuser-Busch and it’s going to come true. I think right now a lot of people are are thinking “Lies, Lies, Lies! Spin! Spin! Spin!” But we are still involved in the company. The brewers are still involved in the company. The same thing is going to keep on happening. Just let the beer do the talking. That’s all were asking from people. On the restaurant side, let the experience and the food and the beer do the talking. Judge us by what’s in the bottle. The creativity they are going to see from us, the new products that are going to come out, the consistency is going to be the same. Apocalypse is still going to taste great six months from now. Everything is going to be awesome. Let the beer do the talking!

How do you foresee this move shaking things up with the Brewers Association (BA) and their guidelines regarding what is and isn’t constituted as craft beer? How will this, do you think, affect the landscape of craft beer with the BA taken into account?

Andy Goeler: A polite way to put it is “Does it really matter?” It’s the consumer that matters. So, the definition that the Brewers Association or anybody puts on what a craft is isn’t really important. What’s important is how consumers perceive the beer. Any beer that is well-crafted goes to the passion of the brewmaster writing a recipe, Using quality ingredients, And a quality process to ensure it’s top-notch. That’s what a great beer is, whether it’s considered “craft” by a definition from the BA or anyone else is definitely secondary. It’s really up to the consumer.

I think one concern that local consumers would have would go beyond the quality of the product. I mean, let’s just say that 10 Barrels quality remains on par as to where it is today, a great beer…Let’s say it even continues getting better. Does the fact that it is now owned by a foreign company with greater interests than the communities in the Pacific Northwest make it a less desirable commodity? Is this a concern of AB InBev?

Jeremy Cox: the thing about the Northwest is I think that people and consumers appreciate great beer. I keep on going back to this, but Jimmy, Tonya, Shawn, and Whitney are going to be our brewers. They’re all top-notch brewers and they’re all awesome at their craft. So I think it’s going to be local people still living in Oregon brewing beer for 10 Barrel Brewing Company.

GW: The jobs, you mentioned jobs. It’s a key component of that. All the folks that work at the brewery in Bend, work at the pub and Bend, will work at the pub in Portland, those are all local jobs. Those are all local people. They are making a living off of a local product. It’s brewed in a local community. We get that there is a big picture here, but to break it down to what really matters in people’s lives that are influenced and are making a difference. It’s local community people in a local environment working with a local product. The jobs aren’t going anywhere. We’re adding more jobs.

Final Tweet:

I do (have a question for 10 Barrel Brewing founders) but I don’t think I could ask it without them wanting to end the interview. What do you expect to get out of this acquisition?

Chris Cox:  We are excited about this partnership. There’s a lot of opportunities. We were at a point, like Jeremy said, that we realize we were good at a lot of stuff and we are not good at a lot of stuff. And I think this is a perfect strategic partnership for us so we can get back and concentrate on the stuff that we are great at, and that’s brewing beer and having fun. This partnership is going to allow us to do that and it’s going to be fun and we’re excited about it!