Here’s an interesting little item that speaks to the image that a brewery can, and often strives, to create. While small in and of itself, given the changes we’re seeing in brewery ownership and other business dealings, an important one. This is especially true in the wake of another prominent up and coming Oregon brewery that witnessed a pretty severe backlash for selling an interest in the company to Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) last year. And witness how the tribe reacted to the lawsuit that Lagunitas initiated for trademark infringement against Sierra Nevada, despite it being a perfectly reasonable and understandable business decision. What those recent incidents have taught us, if anything, is that perception often matters more in the eyes of customers than following traditional business practices. Apparently, this really isn’t your father’s brewing company, and woe be to any brewery that doesn’t at least follow its own heart, if not the perceived heart of its fanbase.
Ninkasi Brewing, of Eugene, Oregon, announced that they were ending their relationship with their large beer distributor, owned by ABI, and signing with two smaller, locally owned distributors to cover the same territory — “Eugene-based Bigfoot Beverage Distributors and Bellevue, Washington-based Odom Corp.” Apparently, the only reason Nnkasi was with ABI distributors in the first place was because of a buyout a few years ago of the beer distributors that originally sold their beer to the larger ABI-owned one.
According to a story in the Register-Guard, CEO and co-founder Nikos Ridge remarked that this “arrangement did not fit well with Ninkasi’s world view” and added. “We are committed to being an independent and locally owned craft brewery, and feel we will be better aligned long term with independent and locally owned wholesalers.”
It’s interesting that Ninkasi wants to stay true to their roots, even as they expand into other markets, preferring local distributors over potentially more efficient and possibly more effective ones. Even at the expense of their business, they chose what they perceive to be the better fit with their company ethos. That’s a lesson many other brewers will have to learn as they navigate the landscape of the modern age of beer. These things matter to a lot of people, even if they rarely even understand how to run a business, what are the intricacies of trademark law, or what’s involved in signing with a distributor. Perception is your street cred in this day and age, and that’s likely to only intensify as a growing number of breweries are vying for your attention, your loyalty and most importantly, your business.
The Ninkasi brewery during a quick visit to Eugene last summer.