10 Barrel's Tenth Anniversary: There Is No 10 Barrel

Two Saturdays hence (May 13), AB InBev is hosting a massively expensive party in Bend. They're promoting it the way only one of the largest companies in the world can--with prizes, a big music lineup (including De La Soul!), and the kind of overheated marketing gloss the finest agencies supply. The occasion celebrates the founding of a brewery AB InBev purchased in 2014. Shockingly enough, this is not the way they're talking about it.

Indeed, the entire event is an exercise in disguising this detail.

I have nothing against 10 Barrel. I really admire the beers you find at the Portland location--which is replete with both great food and one of the best rooftop pubs in the state. I admire the brewing team enormously. I drop by for a pint on a pretty regular basis, always walk away impressed, and enjoy the experience. From my perspective, beer is beer, and I like patronizing places that get it right.

That said, this event underscores why ownership matters. If it didn't, ABI wouldn't be doing everything they can to conceal their fingerprints. If the brand identity of the owner weren't a liability, we'd see copy like this: "Join Anheuser Busch on May 13 as we celebrate ten years of 10 Barrel Brewing. Now a proud member of our High End team, 10 Barrel has set the standard for craft beer ... etc etc." Instead, they forward an almost comical version of the indie vibe when pushing 10 Barrel, highlighting a fiction that helps sell beer.

This is hogwash.

Worse, there's something not just cynical about this exercise, but dishonest. Every company presents itself and its products in the most favorable light. A little polishing of the apple is to be expected. But this event takes that to a new, Trumpian level of dishonesty. The entire function of celebrating a "brewery" is to create the impression of independence. But there is, literally, no 10 Barrel Brewery. These are facilities owned by AB InBev and in more recent cases built by AB InBev. The people working at the 10 Barrel breweries are employees of AB InBev. 10 Barrel is a member of a portfolio of AB InBev brands and a line-item in the AB InBev budget. Decisions about where 10 Barrel-branded pubs will go, and which beers will ride on the trucks of AB InBev distributors are made by AB InBev. And this giant spectacle is being funded by the very deep pockets of AB InBev.

The reason it matters is because customers still care who owns these breweries. This is not just the view of the Brewers Association and its member breweries--it's blatantly the view of AB InBev, which is busily trying to hide 10 Barrel's ownership from customers. And if ownership matters, then transparency matters. No doubt there's some element of celebration motivating the event on May 13--it's a great moment for long-time employees to take a victory lap. But the central goal of the party is burnishing 10 Barrel's (fake) indie cred. And it's working! There's an article in 1859 (a lifestyle magazine in Oregon) that devotes a few hundred words to this fiction. It's a local-boys-done-good story that fails to mention who owns the company.

Go to the 10 Barrel pubs, buy the beer, enjoy it. But recognize who owns it and why they're trying so hard to obscure that fact.