When we talk about takeovers of UK breweries, the term selling out is used liberally. However, when the likes of Brixton Brewery accept investment by Heineken, I question what impact will it really have within the needs of the existing craft beer market. I, and no doubt, you, almost exclusively purchase beers I enjoy from independent brewers because I enjoy how they taste, because I take pleasure from supporting small, often local businesses, and also, sometimes guiltily just because I enjoy the shimmer of the shiny ‘new’.
To state the obvious, for situations like Brixton/Heineken to arise, both sides need to be assured that the partnership brings value. Brixton are still a relatively obscure brewery nationally, with a decent and sometimes very good range of beer. The news of the Heineken investment is not a hammer blow to craft beer in the UK, but neither is it insignificant as it signifies that the biggest breweries are recognising that in order to catch the eye in a changing market they must play by at least some of the rules. Fake brands, rebadging, overpowering takeovers are easy to spot and dismiss, but having a genuine interest in a collaborative product is a compromise that is less likely to generate contempt that can spread outwards from the mindset of the hardcore beer enthusiast to the more casual drinker.
If the injections of corporate funds into the likes of Brixton Brewery are anathema to what hardcore craft beer drinkers value, this is not a wider concern of the majority of people ordering pints in bars across the UK. In their own way Heineken are effectively validating the importance of provenance, quality and innovation in UK beer by carrying out these investments (or buyouts if you prefer) and for them, acknowledging competition is ultimately a form of respect. Diversifying their offering is the only logical reaction to what has been happening on a minor, yet increasing scale – and ultimately, if it gets better beer in the view of the majority of drinkers, why can it be begrudged?
Ultimately, whatever happens to Brixton in terms of Heineken’s investment. The behaviour of the majority of those of us who spend time investing a piece of ourselves in the beer and breweries we enjoy will not change. If the tastes of the wider drinker catches up with us, that’s fine too, but I don’t feel that good beer is endangered by deals such as these, partially as there will always be people like me who value quality and independence. Currently, the flow of UK craft beer scene is trickling out into its surroundings, and whether or not Heineken will help the taps run faster is debatable, but there’s plenty of people willing to give the handle a turn and see what happens, be they craft, or corporate.