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Despite backlash, Wicked Weed sees AB InBev sale as move toward growth, change

Posted July 8
Updated July 11

It's been two months since Wicked Weed announced that it had been bought by Anheuser-Busch, but the dust still hasn't settled.

In May, Wicked Weed joined The High End, Anheuser-Busch's portfolio of craft brands, which includes names like Goose Island and Elysian Brewing. The growing list of craft beers under the AB InBev umbrella meant the big guys had experience dealing with the challenges that craft breweries bring, unlike some of Wicked Weed's other potential suitors, said co-founder Walt Dickinson.

But the Asheville brewery's sale drew instant backlash from the around the beer community: Breweries pulled out of Wicked Weed's charitable Funkatoriam Invitational, forcing them to cancel the event; bottle shops dropped the brand from their stores; and then there are the Facebook comments.

Dickinson and Justin Crouch, who sells for the brewery, pitched the sale on the 919 Beer Podcast as a way to maintain control of their future and change some of the problems for craft breweries from the inside out.

"I think that we're going to cause a lot of good in the (beer) space because of (the sale)," Dickinson said. "Because now we have an ability to effect positive change through how wholesalers treat suppliers, how suppliers help educate wholesalers, how we treat and store quality products and make sure we're dealing with freshness."

With expanded distribution and better consumer education, Crouch said Wicked Weed is also poised to take some of the risk out of brewing and selling new styles of beer. Crouch said Wicked Weed can test a market with expensive sour beers, which opens the door for other, local breweries, too.

"So, what does that do for other craft breweries?" Crouch said. "Well now, other, smaller craft breweries that are making sour beer, when they go to sell one of the most expensive kegs that they've ever sold or a bar has ever bought, they actually have proof of concept that people are going to buy it.

"So, (the bar) is actually more likely to take a shot on a local brewery's sour beer and see how it moves. I honestly see that opening the door for other sour breweries."

Despite the backlash from the craft community, Dickinson is looking forward as Wicked Weed expands into South Carolina and soon into Virginia with AB InBev as a partner that will let them grow.

"At the end of the day, it's about making great beer, and I think consumers will come back to that," Dickinson said.

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Get the inside track on all things beer in the Triangle and North Carolina from the 919 Beer blog.