Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch says lax government oversight could kill American craft beer

"When it comes to protecting American companies and workers, at least in beer, our government does make bad deals."

6-2-2014 Jamaica Plain, Mass. Samuel Adams Brewery founder Jim Koch spends lot of his time  walking   through his brewery. Globe photo by Bill Brett
Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch pictured in the company's Jamaica Plain brewery in 2014. –Bill Brett / The Boston Globe

Samuel Adams co-founder Jim Koch, one of the country’s original craft brewers, is worried about his industry.

In a New York Times opinion piece Friday, Koch says the American craft beer industry’s rise may be coming to an end — in part due to insufficient government anti-trust rules have allowed two top (foreign-owned) mega-brewers to monopolize the market.

Koch said recent mergers by the top beer conglomerates in 2008 and 2016 had resulted in an increase in prices and the loss of 5,000 American jobs.

“That money goes to those two foreign conglomerates that have been able to reduce their tax bills and move much of their profits offshore,” he wrote.

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Koch, himself a billionaire brewer, has warned against consolidation before. But in Friday’s piece, he was particularly pointed in directing blame at the federal government for not doing enough to protect small American brewers.

“The Department of Justice is allowing the damage to continue by greenlighting these two big brewers to extend their duopoly into craft beer by acquiring craft brewers,” he wrote, comparing American anti-trust laws to more stringent rules in other countries.

Koch said last year’s merger between Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller — which put a huge portfolio of brewers, including Budweiser, Michelob, Busch, ShockTop, and many craft breweries, under one ownership umbrella — was approved with “largely meaningless conduct restrictions,” which he likened to “a free pass.”

“When it comes to protecting American companies and workers, at least in beer, our government does make bad deals,” he wrote.

Why does it matter if the craft beer is being bought out? According to Koch, that’s where the industry’s forward momentum comes from. And additionally, unlike the foreign conglomerates, craft brewers employ local workers and invest in their communities, he said.

Read his full op-ed here — that is, unless you prefer exclusively drinking Bud Light.

Update: Anheuser-Busch has chimed in — and the company takes issue with Koch’s characterization of the industry.

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“We understand Boston Beer sales are hurting right now and it is easy to blame the bigger brewers,” spokeswoman Gemma Hart said in a statement. “But with 5,300 breweries out there, the numbers don’t stack up, and we only see positive, exciting things ahead for our industry and for craft in particular, certainly not its demise!”

Indeed, profits for Samuel Adams and Boston Beer Company, the umbrella company for Koch’s beverage empire, reportedly fell in 2016.

Hart also pointed out that Anheuser-Busch employs 16,000 people in the United States.

“We are embedded in our communities across the country,” she said.