In the cool dark of the morning on December 18, 2016, men and women skilled at turning barley into beer will wipe the sleep from their eyes, swipe a comb through their beards, and head into work to start the brew day at Four Peaks in Tempe. It will have been a full year since the earth-shattering (for beer nerds, anyway) announcement that the largest brewery in Arizona would be sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev. And despite initial assurances from owners Andy Ingram and Jim Scussel that nothing at the brewery would change, things most certainly will have.
The equipment, for one, will look shinier. And there will be more of it. With monetary concerns that once hindered the brewery’s ability to invest in new fermenters, kegging equipment, filters, and other items necessary for growth now gone, Four Peaks’ locations will have begun to fill up with fresh stainless steel. Aluminum, too — the shortage of cans that hit the beer industry in late 2016 will have skipped Four Peaks entirely, since AB InBev (and its subsidiaries) gets first rights to aluminum goodies. If AB InBev is the evil empire, the brewers will wonder if stormtroopers felt this pampered.
The beer, too, will seem better. This is surprising, since competition among the 4,000-plus small breweries operating in the U.S. in 2016 made it incredibly difficult for anyone to obtain fresh, high-quality hops and malt — but not Four Peaks. Anheuser-Busch operates its own hop farms and malt houses, making it unnecessary for Four Peaks to scramble for the rarer ingredients on brewing’s spot market. Access to the world’s best brewing science lab will also ensure that beer quality is as high as it’s ever been.
In 2016, this better beer will also available in more places. Using the distribution channels and contacts made available to them by their new ownership, Four Peaks will be finally able to expand out-of-state. Kilt Lifter and Hop Knot will regularly be flowing from draft lines in California, Nevada and New Mexico, and new fans of the brewery will be born each day. As renown for beer brewed in Arizona grows, so will Four Peaks’ production, and the brewery will break into the top 50 breweries in the country by sales volume. Beer drinkers in states besides Arizona will finally be talking about — and seeking out — the beers made here.
But what of the local fans? It will be tough for a good number of beer drinkers to reconcile corporate ownership with the culture of the craft beer industry, which is intensely local and within which autonomy, creativity and a big middle finger to those who uphold the status quo are held as virtues. Many of Four Peaks’ fans who knee-jerkingly declared after the buyout announcement in December 2015 that they’d lifted their last Kilt Lifter bemoaned the fact that a percentage of the money drinkers spend on Four Peaks beer and food funnels out of state — forgetting that the success of those who work for a local business also helps boost the local economy and that a thriving brewing company with a large, well-paid workforce attracts talent from outside the state and helps retain those who’re already here. Others will have worried that predatory practices InBev has been accused of in the past, like paying for tap handles and shelf space or incentivizing distributors to drop focus on craft products, would affect not only Four Peaks but other local breweries — forgetting that Kilt Lifter already had a spot on every single draft line in the state and that retailers are not so easily swayed. Good publicans will still have demanded good local product, and there will always a spot on shelves and draft towers for the small guy.
But most craft beer drinkers will be indifferent. Statistically, the number of people who would be upset about a deal between Four Peaks and AB InBev — like the number who actually care that Blue Moon is produced by MillerCoors or that Pyramid is owned by the North American Breweries conglomerate or that most Alpine beer is now brewed by Green Flash — is and will continue to be insignificant. The majority of beer drinkers neither know nor care who ultimately got paid for the pints, six-packs and kegs of Four Peaks beer they bought, so things will continue as they had.
Arizona’s brewers, meanwhile, will keep creating and innovating and growing in our own way. We will recognize that one does not start a small business with the goal of staying small and chose not to disparage others in their success. We will continue to drink and sell Four Peaks beer because we like the people who work there and because it’s good, well-made beer.
We won't cry for Four Peaks, and neither should you.
Zach Fowle is the director of marketing for Pedal Haus Brewery in Tempe.
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