Winners and losers of the 4 Pines sale to AB InBev

The sale of Manly’s 4 Pines brewery to beer’s dark overlords, AB InBev, was big news, as these kinds of sales always are, but to keen observers wasn’t entirely surprising or as shocking as say the sale of longtime industry stalwarts Mountain Goat to Asahi.

4 Pines were one of the largest remaining independent craft brewers and a logical target for a cashed-up corporation looking to sink its teeth into the Aussie scene by snapping up a local craft brewery.

4 Pines’s focus on producing larger volumes for sale through retail stores, and their rapid expansion strategy, makes me think that they were hoping to attract just this kind of offer at some point.

Whatever the reasoning, the move to sell to AB InBev, is set to impact the industry and Australian beer drinkers. Here are the winners and losers from the deal as I see them.

Winner – AB InBev

For a mega beer corporation, looking for a foot into the Australian market, 4 Pines were in many ways the most viable option out there. Few independent breweries in Australia are large enough to be worth buying but 4 Pines already have a national presence, are accessible in large retail stores and importantly do make some pretty good craft beer too.

CUB, now owned by AB InBev, has long been horrible with its craft beer strategy. They failed miserably to sustain Matilda Bay as a craft brand. But with the addition of 4 Pines and US import Goose Island, AB InBev now have the foundations of a solid craft beer lineup. It means they have a more diverse portfolio and a lineup that is more capable of competing with rivals, Lion.

Loser – Lion

Lion, the other big beer player in Australia, has long capitalised on the fact that CUB never got their shit together. With this acquisition AB InBev have shown they are prepared to enter the battle for the craft market, and 4 Pines are a capable adversary for Lion’s craft beer leader Little Creatures, with some nice hoppy ales and a diverse range of seasonal batch beers.

Winners – Drinkers at CUB-locked venues

If you’re going to somewhere like the footy or an airport bar or an ordinary pub where you previously could only choose from a range of CUB beers like Carlton Draught and Crown, this move means the taps could be in for an upgrade soon. A 4 Pines Pale Ale on tap would be a nice improvement in this circumstance.

Losers – Consumers looking for independent beers to be available

One of the great things about 4 Pines was that they were widely available for an independent craft beer. They would often be the best of a bad bunch at franchise bottle stores.

If you want to buy independent beers now you’ll need to make that extra effort to find a good independent bottle store. But if you’re a fervent ‘independent beer only’ guy and you’re at your local supermarket bottle store you might be shit out of luck.

Winners – 4 Pines owners’ bank accounts

They would have made a pretty tidy sum from this transaction. Kudos to them.

Losers – Supporters of independent beer

If you buy craft beer because you want to support independent local beers then it’s a sad day to see another independent brewery bite the dust.

However, I’m not sure how much of an impact it’s really going to have on independent beer drinkers as really how many were drinking 4 Pines anyway?

Unless you live in the Northern Beaches and frequent 4 Pines’ brewery bar venues, you’re better off going with something local anyway (and if you are in the Northern Beaches, there’s a little place called Modus Operandi). And unless you were a real 4 Pines stalwart, you’ve probably moved onto other beers. And if you’re really honest, do you actually get that excited by seasonal beer releases from 4 Pines anyway?

Neutral – Drinkers

My personal take as a drinker focused mainly on quality, is that while 4 Pines may make some good core beers and even snuck into my last edition of top 10 Australian brewers, their seasonals have never tempted me all that much and I’d tend to seek out other options anyway. If my options at a venue are limited or they’re on special, they’ll still be a decent fallback. If one day I can get their pale ale at a sporting event or on an airplane that would be a great improvement on the trash beer I’m currently forced to stomach at those venues eg. some Fat Lazy Stupid Yak ale thing.

Neutral – Craft brewers

So in a recurring trend once again an Aussie craft brewery has sold to a bigger player upon reaching a certain size. Other craft brewers will look at this situation with some interest but really it shouldn’t have any major impact on how they go about things.

One potential impact is that AB InBev could be more of a threat as it can promote a well-regarded Australian craft beer in its portfolio when pitching to venues. 4 Pines beers are also now more likely to be discounted, making it harder for smaller independent brewers to compete on price.

But until all this materialises, the sale should’t impact too much on craft brewers – they’ll continue to try to differentiate themselves based on quality and their local connections.

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