The East Bay Express article seemed ominous enough. Under the headline “Corporate Beer Overlords AB InBev to Open Golden Road ‘Craft’ Beer Garden in North Oakland”, readers were warned Golden Road Brewing filed permits with the city of Oakland to open a beer garden on 40th Street between Broadway and Manila Avenue. Golden Road became part of the growing empire of A-B InBev brands late 2015 when they were acquired by the multi-national brewing giant. The short article ends with a quote from Tom McCormick of the California Craft Brewers Association claiming A-B InBev’s takeover of breweries like Golden Road is the biggest threat to the craft beer industry. The article seems little more than a call to arms to be spread on social media to rally the masses against big evil corporate beer.
Fair enough. People should be informed what companies are behind beer brands like Golden Road to make informed choices. But the “big beer evil, local beer good” vibe to the article seems rather dated, especially given the tremendous transformation in the brewing industry in just the past few years with the triumphs of “craft” breweries over large corporate ones. Still, the message still has a lot of resonance given AB InBev is no longer a lumbering giant resorting to using talking frogs to sell tasteless lagers. In just the past couple years, AB InBev co-opted the craft beer playbook, buying up craft breweries to create a local presence in major markets, acquiring Seattle’s Elysian, Oregon’s 10 Barrel, and LA’s Golden Road as part of that strategy on the West Coast.
Notice there are no Northern California breweries on that list. Over the past couple years, Elysian, 10 Barrel and Golden Road six-packs and tap handles popped up all over the Bay Area, and AB InBev has demonstrably built up a following in the Bay Area with their craft brands. But what’s going on in Oakland is a step further. By building an actual Golden Road brewery in the Oakland, AB InBev is effectively attempting to establish themselves as a local Bay Area brewery, a plan as diabolical as it is smart. Of course, most people are in favor of things like new beer gardens and new businesses which increase employment, and raising these sort of positives about AB InBev’s investment in Oakland makes sense, but seems like missing the point.
The big questions are: “Can AB InBev pull this off?” and “Could they be planning to create breweries in other Bay Area neighborhoods?” Well, looking at some of the social media comments on the East Bay Express article, success for AB InBev seems like a good bet. While there’s plenty of dissent like “Nope, not stepping foot on the premises”, I noticed a surprisingly number of counterpoints. “I agree that this seems a great development for North Oakland” wrote one commenter. AB InBev is muscling into the Bay Area to become a “local” brewery under their craft brand Golden Road, and the question is not whether they can pull off this audacious feat, but how successful they’ll be at it.