Crispin Cider: Is Your Favorite Cider Company Becoming Bigger and Better or Just Bigger?

The other day I was perusing my favorite beer blogs as I’m wont to do and I came upon a certain piece of news that wretched my gut and made me want to vomit and yell at the same time. ‘WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?’ I screamed in my head, gawking at the headline. See for yourself. But don’t read the post. Just react. Check yourself. Think about your feelings. Now read my post…

It took me a second and then I got over it. Then I was just sad. Another one, gone. In case you didn’t click on the link, here’s the big news: MillerCoors has officially purchased Crispin Cider. Are you upset yet? Or are you with me, moping over here in thiscorner? Well, get over here, let’s talk this out.

So here’s why I’m upset: I feel betrayed.

I feel betrayed for a few reasons:

1) Did you know Crispin isn’t even made in Minnesota? I guess I should’ve known that one. It’s made in California, it’s just BASED in Minneapolis (and the owner is South African, something that makes me like Crispin more because I know how the South Africans love their cider). Now it all makes sense. That’s why they partner with Fox Barrel—they’re also from Cali. So what part of Minnesota was I supporting by buying Crispin besides the prestige they add to the Minnesota beer scene as being a premium cider manufacturer?

2) Apparently the owner of Crispin, Joe Heron, feels that “People see these [companies like MillerCoors] as huge monolithic companies, but these are real people who are all about beer. They make their regular products, but they are just as much into the craft as anybody.” I get it, I’m one of these ‘people,’ and it makes me feel guilty, because I’m sure they are into the craft. But it’s a business and cheap crappy beer is also a business (I would know, I drink it too). I feel like he’s called me out on being a beer snob, elitist even, and hating these hard-working Americans because they’re not working for a true craft brewery and it makes me feel bad. Boo.

3) At my core, I feel like “there’s another good one, gone to the dark side.” But the point that Heron makes is that a decision like this means they will have a larger span of resources, expertise, and access to currently untapped markets. And it’s not just like they’re going to MillerCoors the giant, they’re going specifically to the craft and import division, the giant’s baby finger called ‘The Tenth and Lake Beer Company’ that works their magic to acquire companies like Crispin (with presumably the best intentions, based on point #2). Oh, and they own Leinenkugel’s. I think the part that bothers me the most is the length all these companies go to to hide the fact that they are indeed part of the giant. The village knows the giant is the giant even if he wears townspeople clothes – or does it?

4) The upside: Crispin promises its drinkership that yes, the quality will remain the same, and that it’s only going to get even better from here, now that they can continue to grow as the brewery we know and love. But Minnesota was just not enough. Too small, too local. Too ‘niche.’ Time to go to Colorado and play with the big boys. But should we feel happy for Crispin? Didn’t we beam as our friends who hadn’t heard of Crispin before tried it at our encouragement and loved it? Yes. Didn’t we get excited when we saw a new kind of cider they were experimenting with at our local liquor store? Yes. Shouldn’t we want to share it with more people so we never have to say, “Do you have Crispin down here? No?! Bummer.” Shouldn’t we breathe a sigh of relief?

5) Wasn’t this Joe Heron’s dream from day one? Isn’t this every brewery owner – no, homebrewer’s – dream? To make the big time, have everyone know and love your beer, ask their liquor stores to get it, belly up to the bar to indulge in it, and you have all the money in the world to do what you do, brew and share your brew with those who truly love it and love good beer? Yes. Shouldn’t we applaud him for his entrepreneurial genius and for making a fucking awesome cider with great branding? Sigh. Yes. Heron has played a huge role in making cider what it is today, and it’s only going to get better from here (see this article for more on that, it’s really interesting; cider’s market share is rapidly increasing, and Crispin’s sales in particular has grown over 300% in the last year). We should be happy. But why can’t I get this bad taste out of my mouth?

The blog post that shared this information with me has clearly made me think a lot more about my beer values and mores, while the author, Michael Agnew Master Cicerone, is seemingly pretty neutral on the topic, just sharing the news and letting us take it as we will.  But then the post ends, a billion thoughts running through my head, he says as a statement of fact that makes the doubt in the back of my mind gurgle to life, “That being said, Killian’s Irish Red is not the beer it once was.” (Ok, now that I’ve ruined it, go ahead and read his whole post) This, my friends, is why I was originally so upset and is not something I can talk/write myself out of. Because of this purchase and subsequent relationship, Crispin is no longer the cider I loved, even if it is. Even though I will still drink it and respect it for what it’s done to the beer and cider industry, I won’t love it as I once did with the same blind affection. And I know that even with all the innovation and distribution they might have in the future, I will never get that feeling back.

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2 thoughts on “Crispin Cider: Is Your Favorite Cider Company Becoming Bigger and Better or Just Bigger?

  1. Nice piece. Thanks for the link.
    One interesting note about Joe Heron. He’s an fantastic guy and I consider him a friend. But he didn’t even like cider when he started Crispin. He has since learned to love it and is quite passionate about it. But he calls himself a “serial entrepreneur.” He has started many businesses in his long career. That’s where he gets his kicks. But he now says that running Crispin is the most fun he has had in his business career and he’s not looking to give that up just yet. He’ll stay at the helm for at least 3 years. After that, we’ll see.

  2. I think one can see this as a big positive. Coors, and all the other giants in beer are being forced to play catch up to tiny niche brewers. I think this means that things are looking good for micro breweries.

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