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An Open Letter to Pete Coors

May 07, 2018 Comments (17) An Open Letter to Pete Coors


A letter to the Brewers Association from Pete Coors, the chairman of Molson Coors’ board of directors, and response from Nikos Ridge, president and co-founder of Ninkasi Brewing Company

First, the full letter from Pete Coors. (For more context, read this artcle from Brewbound.com.) 

A Letter to the BA From Pete Coors

Congratulations on the remarkable attendance at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville. The high turnout speaks to the interest and passion that brewers, suppliers, and the general public have for beer and the brewing industry.

As a paying member of the Brewers Association, I enjoy my subscription to The New Brewer. It is the reason I have taken the time to write a point of view concerning the ongoing vitriol expressed in its pages and most recently reaffirmed by BA Chairman Eric Wallace and President Bob Pease toward the large, non-independent brewers.

The brewing industry is not exclusively made up of “large, multinational brewers” or “big brewers” or “faux craft brewers.” It is not exclusively made up of “mass produced” beer, craft brewers or home brewers. Rather, the beer industry is a combination of large and small brewers, retailers, distributors, and suppliers who are passionate about their craft and committed to their businesses. And, they are passionate about competing for the millions of American consumers who love beer.

The leadership of the Brewers Association does a great disservice to the entire beer value chain by attempting to pit one part of the industry against another.

You must know that it is insulting to those of us who don’t meet the clever criteria of your self-proclaimed definition of “craft brewer.” This approach prioritizes insults and division over unity for a beverage that has been used to unify and celebrate together for generations.

Should the highly educated and trained brewers who work for large brewers or the breweries that have been purchased by them be included in the disdain you seem to have for them? Should the quality of beers produced by them, including hundreds of quality medals be insulted by the Brewers Association simply because the parent company isn’t part of your ever-changing “club?” Didn’t all large brewers start as craft brewers? Don’t all craft brewers wish to grow and be prosperous?

We share distributors, many of whom would not be able to distribute Brewers Association beers without the scale provided by the large brewers. You claim that your members are precluded from distribution at retail, while I visit account after account that do not carry any “big brewer” products.

Competition in our industry should be honored and cherished. I agree with you that craft brewers are “exemplars of the American Dream, of entrepreneurial spirit”. However, you must realize that big brewers are as well. There should be no room for cheap shots and insults (“faux”, “crafty”, “capitulated” beers) for each other.

That is a slippery slope that does not end well for our industry. We have enough competition inside the beer business and outside it with wine, spirits and, increasingly, marijuana.

You undermine your credibility by pitting us against one another to the ultimate detriment of the entire beer industry.

Keep your independent seal, your pride and your zeal for brewing, but let’s be united as an industry. There are other enemies we all must fight together.

A letter to the Brewers Association by Pete Coors, with a response from our president and co-founder, Nikos Ridge: 

Pete Coors: Congratulations on the remarkable attendance at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville. The high turnout speaks to the interest and passion that brewers, suppliers, and the general public have for beer and the brewing industry.

Nikos Ridge: Specifically, it is the interest and passion people have for the Craft Brewing Industry, which drives this event. This year, more than 14,000 attended the Craft Brewers Conference. Also organized by the Brewers Association, the Great American Beer Festival brings in more than 60,000 people, largely due to customer excitement for craft brewers, innovative beers, and their support of independent, entrepreneurial business people.

P.C.: As a paying member of the Brewers Association I enjoy my subscription to The New Brewer.  It is the reason I have taken the time to write a point of view concerning the ongoing vitriol expressed in its pages and most recently reaffirmed by BA Chairman Eric Wallace and President Bob Pease toward the large, non-independent brewers.

N.R.: The New Brewer is the magazine of the Craft Beer Industry, which is in fact, a very different industry from multinational conglomerated brand organizations like MillerCoors. If you don’t like what our industry has to say about how you work to undermine and control it, then all I can say is: what exactly should craft brewers do about it? It seems you’re suggesting we start advocating a position more supportive of companies like yours. Companies that have all the power, confuse customers, and obfuscate origin in order to cash in on the goodwill built  by hard-working craft brewers. 

P.C.: The brewing industry is not exclusively made up of “large, multinational brewers” or “big brewers” or “faux craft brewers.” It is not exclusively made up of “mass produced” beer, craft brewers or home brewers. Rather, the beer industry is a combination of large and small brewers, retailers, distributors and suppliers who are passionate about their craft and committed to their businesses. And, they are passionate about competing for the millions of American consumers who love beer.

N.R.: Correct. The problem arises when certain tiers within the industry (large multinational brewers), work to obscure the origins and manipulate the market to their advantage. By disguising beer brands as “craft” and using the market power and tactics available to huge organizations, you deliberately mislead customers and damage the industry. 

P.C.: The leadership of the Brewers Association does a great disservice to the entire beer value chain by attempting to pit one part of the industry against another.

N.R.: Let’s take a look at the tactics large brewers employ out there every day:

P.C.: You must know that it is insulting to those of us who don’t meet the clever criteria of your self-proclaimed definition of “craft brewer.” This approach prioritizes insults and division over unity for a beverage that has been used to unify and celebrate together for generations.

N.R.: What’s insulting is for you to lie to craft beer customers about the origins of their beer and then argue that it’s a problem when we [craft brewers] point it out. Why don’t you call it “MillerCoors Hop Valley?” Because you know what you purchased is the ability to lie to customers and to cash in on craft credibility. If you didn’t, then how about you claim it, with the pride you seem to have for what you’re doing? I think we’re aware of the reasons why you don’t, and in fact, you go to great lengths to cover it up.

P.C.: Should the highly educated and trained brewers who work for large brewers or the breweries that have been purchased by them be included in the disdain you seem to have for them? Should the quality of beers produced by them, including hundreds of quality medals be insulted by the Brewers Association simply because the parent company isn’t part of your ever-changing “club?” Didn’t all large brewers start as craft brewers? Don’t all craft brewers wish to grow and be prosperous?

N.R.: This industry is, and always will be, about the people. There is massive respect for all the incredible minds at work in larger breweries and throughout the industry—it’s the corporate tactics we disdain.

All people are valuable and should be respected, but companies aren’t people. When companies lie and cheat to get their objectives met to the detriment of small business, I think it’s okay to take a stand.  Also, not all craft brewers are oriented towards growth. Many want to build a good quality of life in their community and for their teams, something that isn’t based on continuous concentration, consolidation and market control.

P.C.: We share distributors, many of whom would not be able to distribute Brewers Association beers without the scale provided by the large brewers.  You claim that your members are precluded from distribution at retail, while I visit account after account that do not carry any “big brewer” products.

N.R.: I believe that these are the same distributor partners who legislated heavily (and effectively) to protect themselves in the past through franchise laws, shielding them from the same kind of power wielding, “all for me” mentality that still is at the forefront of large brewer approaches to the marketplace. Our distribution partners are what make our business possible, and we make them a lot of money as well. There are many retailers that don’t carry our products, because we’re too big or not local enough. So what do we do? We innovate and create relationships. We don’t buy brands and mislead customers. 

P.C.: Competition in our industry should be honored and cherished. I agree with you that craft brewers are “exemplars of the American Dream, of entrepreneurial spirit.” However, you must realize that big brewers are as well. There should be no room for cheap shots and insults (“faux”, “crafty”, “capitulated” beers) for each other.

N.R.: Fair enough, but from my perspective, calling out someone for actively misrepresenting themselves to customers and working behind-the-scenes to damage competitors and drive down choice isn’t really a cheap shot. It’s a necessity.

P.C.: That is a slippery slope that does not end well for our industry. We have enough competition inside the beer business and outside it with wine, spirits and, increasingly, marijuana.

N.R.: I might say that we have more in common with small producers across industries than with the vertical players in our own industry. Craft brewers face similar access to market issues, high costs and challenging incumbents. Our only chance is to come up with innovative, exciting beers for customers who care enough to support what we do. More marijuana, craft distiller, small winery, and craft beer collaborations down the road perhaps?

P.C.: You undermine your credibility by pitting us against one another to the ultimate detriment of the entire beer industry.

N.R.: I think we could easily correlate the current trends in the industry to the rise of Faux Craft and macro-owned craft. There is a problem when, because of market power, conglomerates drive distribution of lower velocity products, killing customer excitement and trends that were a hallmark of independent craft beer. 

This is bad for our industry, our distributors, our retail partners, and especially our customers. Look at the top Faux Craft brands, declining and dragging down the industry as a whole. Who is winning? It’s still the independent, regional, and, in particular, new and local craft brewers, hitting the market with exceptional products, customer engagement and exciting stories. 

What undermines our collective credibility is when large brewers lie about origins, trick and confuse customers, while legislating against other tiers of the industry, and creating global mega-mergers that drive down choice and increase monopoly power.

P.C.: Keep your independent seal, your pride and your zeal for brewing, but let’s be united as an industry. There are other enemies we all must fight together.

N.R.:  Will do and we will, but you first…

-Pete Coors

-Nikos Ridge


Comments (17)

  1. Robert:
    May 07, 2018 at 05:11 PM

    Post the first letter in its entirety then let the response break it down. It needs to be read in one piece.

  2. Tara Bedney:
    May 07, 2018 at 05:39 PM

    Preach! We choose to purchase our beer based on how delicious it is but also where our money is going. We value companies that put money back into our community and support other local businesses as well. While we don't begrudge anyone who purchases a beer produced by "big beer", we like knowing that our money is going towards smaller businesses and the people they support rather than large conglomerates. Ninkasi has been our go to since before we moved here 10 years ago, and we love visiting other locally owned breweries when the opportunity presents itself. Your words reaffirm my entire stance on beer. Tip of the hat and a big thank you from this couple of Eugene beer nuts :)

  3. Eric Wallace:
    May 07, 2018 at 06:40 PM

    Thanks Nikos. Great response. Did I say anything during my talk that wasn't true? Cheers.

  4. Jeremy Starck:
    May 07, 2018 at 08:34 PM

    What an interesting back and forth. I only buy independent craft beer, but I thought Pete Coors made some good points. I realize his company, and more so ABI does some shady business practices that hurt the smaller craft breweries, but I also see some of his points.

    I feel like our society is so incredibly divided after the past presidential election, and some of that vitriol has leaked into other aspects of our lives. The beer industry might be one of them.

  5. marc:
    May 07, 2018 at 08:51 PM

    come back down to earth sometime...meet some of the nice people who work for "big beer", "faux craft" and whatever other self-righteous names you've created to feel better about yourself by putting other people down. when it comes down to it, we're all just trying to make ends meet and many of us are extremely passionate about the products we put out to market...without one hint of an intention of putting your pretentious old white man's club down. not everyone is out to get you...in fact, many have no idea who you are. get over yourself.

  6. Tom:
    May 07, 2018 at 10:21 PM

    Well said. Coors has shareholders to please. Real craft brewers have pint holders to please.

  7. Jake:
    May 07, 2018 at 10:33 PM

    This is well said. Makes me sad that there is even infighting within craft when we all have much bigger concerns.

  8. Ambassador Velvetybags:
    May 07, 2018 at 11:59 PM

    Succinctly exposing and exquisitely worded rebuke. Well done Nikos!

  9. Phil McCaffrey:
    May 08, 2018 at 06:34 AM

    Nikos, well said. Pete be open and honest. Put your stamp on your product (so I can know what not to buy). I'd rather pay more for an honest independent product. And I do my research on the brewery first.

  10. Angelo M. De Ieso II:
    May 08, 2018 at 07:45 AM

    It's great to have a voice of the people like Nikos Ridge in the corner of the independent brewers. Ninkasi is a company that has always represented the values of innovation. Corner-cutting corporate swill has never excited me. Coors can rebrand a million times but are we supposed to feel for them when they control so much of the market? I do not. If you like a cold Coors (which I have from time to time), then enjoy it. We are perhaps all subject to supporting the corporate arm of globalized convenience but, yes, when living in Eugene, I would happily opt for a Ninkasi Total Domination IPA or an Oakshire, Falling Sky, or other regionally brewed, non-multinationalist owned craft product rather than support "craft" oligarchy. That you Nikos for your poignant and well crafted response. Ninkasi has always represented the spirit of craft beer and community, not just for show, but because the people who created the company put in place a foundation of diversity, creativeness, and independence that I hope will last for generations to come. I won't get into Coors' origins and hiring practices in their formative years. Coors is not American owned and has no local roots. Ninkasi, you are truly innovative and relevant in this modern world. Thank you, Nikos for being an articulate voice for many of the socially conscious and cooperative network of American Craft Brewers.

  11. tz:
    May 08, 2018 at 08:09 AM

    I can smell the smugness from here, Nikos. Try to be a little more down to earth next time.

  12. ms7:
    May 08, 2018 at 10:55 AM

    Well said Nikos regarding the corporate practices. Macro beer may have its place but the obfuscation is disingenuous by them.

    Also to the couple of folks who are defending when Biff Tannen went to rape George McFly’s prom date, are you kidding or are you planted trolls?

  13. Marty:
    May 08, 2018 at 02:56 PM

    While Mr. Ridge brings up many valid hypocrisies in Mr. Coors argument I am upset that he fails to address some of the core problems I have seen with the BA's recent "Independent" campaign. My main problem is that what this campaign very directly implies is that, according to the BA, the most important aspect of "Craft" brewing is who owns you. I understand that the ever changing definition is multi-tiered but the label says "Independent"; it doesn't say "Quality" or "Innovative" which are different words with different definitions. As a brewing professional this is upsetting to me because it means that the many years of hard work, diligence and dedication I put into making perfect beer have no effect whatsoever on whether the beer is "craft" because it is completely dependent on who owns the brewery.

    My realization from this campaign is that the BA is a trade organization for brewery owners and not one for brewing professionals, which is fine. But it does upset me to feel like I am not part of the community that I helped build because of who my employer is owned by. I do find that a little insulting which I think was the point Mr. Coors was trying to make that was mostly skimmed over by Mr. Ridge. More so because I have purchased many beers displaying the "Independent" label that have been undrinkable due to technical flaws which brings me back to my original point; For the BA beer quality and creativity are taking a back burner to economics which I find to be slightly hypocritical for an organization that self describes as stewards of brewing.

  14. Lickspigot :
    May 08, 2018 at 03:38 PM

    Nikos, if and when Pete replies, please post!

  15. Craig Johnson:
    May 08, 2018 at 03:49 PM

    Great reponse. And the last line of yours was Spit Take funny! Cheers!

  16. derrick thoma:
    May 08, 2018 at 05:30 PM

    Nikos-
    I don’t know what you think went on at Hop Valley, but I look around and see the same people making the same beer. It’s a shame you choose to pick on fellow Eugenians, especially in such a misleading way. You perfectly exemplify the divisiveness being discussed in this article. Perhaps if you had a bought a can line instead of a rock wall and a ridiculous amount of epoxy flooring, you could blame your declining sales on the market, instead bad business decisions.

  17. Wp:
    May 08, 2018 at 08:08 PM

    Responding to Marty, please consider: How is the money you help earn for your employer deployed? If you help earn dollars which are in turn spent on deceptive marketing and lavish distributor incentives then you have self-selected out of this community. You may make amazing beer and be an awesome person, which is great, but we all have choices to make and you've made yours.


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