Why it’s taken two weeks to get our bearings on this Wicked Weed thing
I’ve been breathing Asheville beer for the last seven years and anyone that knows this town will tell you, I take a lot of deep breaths. With the big announcement that the landmark Asheville craft brewery Wicked Weed was acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev earlier this month, it’s no surprise that I’ve been asked about the acquisition at a grocery store, an art gallery, the bait shop, and even the laundromat. Well…
We’ve gone through a lot of changes in the last few years. I remember when there were seven breweries here, and every one of us had 6–8 taps (which would look like a ridiculous lack of selection today). We all closed at 8pm so we didn’t compete with the couple of places downtown that were kind enough to put our products on tap.
Since then, I’ve watched talented people start excellent breweries from scratch, and watched as humble western North Carolina sparked the interest of industry giants. (Ask me how my best friend and I welcomed the New Belgium team to town.) When I was in the brew tour business, I gave tours of local breweries to Shawn Johnson years before he straddled barrels on the cover of Beer Advocate repping his brewery Birds Fly South, and to Seth Carter before he started homebrewing and eventually helped put together some of the best beers to come out of Tennessee via Blackberry Farm Brewery.
I also remember a rock climber dude named Walt Dickinson that would stow his homebrewed sour beers in a backpack, sneak them into festivals, and hold little private tastings behind tents. Those beers were super dope by the way.
I felt privileged to read Wicked Weed’s business plan as they were considering opening in Chattanooga, TN. Right away, I believed those guys were onto something with the potential to change the entire industry.
About that time, I also parlayed one of my prize possessions into a job at Burial Beer Co. By offering up the iconic velvet painting of Tom Selleck, I sealed the deal with Burial and became their first non-owner employee. I had the privilege of running NC sales, distribution, events and promotions. But it also gave me an opportunity to interact with lots of amazing brewers across the Southeast, and the thousands of craft beer enthusiasts that set their sights on the South Slope of Asheville.
I had a front-row seat to watch the world of craft beer explode, completely changing our local economy. I also saw homies like Walt and Luke go from home brewers to industry titans and world-renowned keynote speakers on both funky and clean beers. I’ve been really proud of them and what they’ve accomplished.
Last summer, I was approached by three leaders in the technology sector of Asheville to launch Craftpeak, a company specializing in adapting 21st-century tech to the brewing industry. These guys spent two years partnered with Wicked Weed researching any and all problems that breweries have and finding solutions for them using — you guessed it — the information superhighway.
When I met the CP guys and saw what they’d been working on, I knew immediately that we could change the industry with these tools. I agreed to join on the stipulation that we only work with independent breweries making the best beer. Using Wicked Weed as our flagship example/standard of excellence, we got to work.
It was a joy to share the story of two local boys who put Southeastern beer on the map. Even better, we had the analytical data to show how my team was helping them grow. We showed some of these developments with breweries like Other Half, 7eventh Sun, and Holy City. To bring them on as customers, and to use the Craftpeak platform to boost craft brewing as a whole, has been nothing less than an honor and a fucking privilege.
On May 3, news of InBev’s acquisition of Wicked Weed broke. By 10 am, social media was in a frenzy and every neckbeard (yes I have one) with a Pernicious IPA in his fridge was chiming in with an attack on the whole company — the same company who, for the last four and half years, has employed 300 members of my community. The company that set the bar for quality, variety, and how to treat your staff right, was getting treated like prime rib at a Morrissey concert.
I understood why. I was angry, I was sad, I was hurt… I wanted to respond like Doug at Upland did with his Star Wars analogy and say “I don’t have the plans to the Death Star, but I have a ship that once made the Kessel Run in under 12 parsecs. Let’s fight this thing!” But clearly, I’m not as eloquent as Doug. I thought about echoing the sentiments of Chris from Creature Comforts and sharing how difficult it is to watch a collaborator become a competitor, but then again, I’m not the leader that Chris is.
My Craftpeak partners and I argued back and forth on how to properly address what was happening in our town with our customer. We argued about tone and about the message, and the potential implications of saying nothing or saying the wrong thing.
Let me tell you, there is no worse feeling than the moment you realize that you’re arguing with Mr. Miyagi. When you realize you’re Daniel-san, it’s probably time to shut up. That moment for me came when my partner John at Craftpeak said, “Nobody can take our integrity from us. It’s our own responsibility to cultivate it! And if we abandon our integrity, what do we have left?”
At that moment, all of my anger shifted inward to my immaturity. I realized that condemning Wicked Weed meant abandoning a relationship I’d championed, one with people worthy of respect. That move would not reflect my own ideals, nor would it reflect the hard-fought integrity to which Craftpeak’s been dedicated since day one.
After much soul searching, here’s the the course of action that our team decided on: We texted our friends that work for Wicked Weed and told them how important they are to us. We offered to be a shoulder to lean on or an ear to vent in throughout this process.
At Craftpeak, we’re taking it one day at a time and focusing on personal patience and love. In this spirit, we’ll continue to exclusively offer our tools and services to good people, making great liquid, who have brand stories that we are excited to share. Right now, that still includes Wicked Weed.