The ability of average consumers to resist the overwhelming market forces of mega corporations is always going to be quite limited. If Walmart, for instance, decides to build a new store down the street from your home, and they have the city on their side? Good luck registering some kind of complaint or opposition to the construction. Stories of consumers who successfully warded off that kind of operation from encroaching on their neighborhoods are few and far between.
That’s why it’s rather heartwarming today to hear that the citizens of Oakland can officially be said to have prevailed against the global alcohol behemoth that is Anheuser-Busch InBev, at least in some small fashion. Since March of 2017, consumers and activists in the city’s Temescal neighborhood have been battling against the AB InBev-owned Golden Road Brewing Co., which was seeking to open a new nano-brewery and beer garden in the rapidly growing area. And it looks like all the opposition paid off: After months of inactivity, Golden Road has finally admitted that they’re abandoning the project. Or as the Golden Road spokesperson put it: “After a lot of consideration we have decided not to proceed with our current plans to build a beer garden in Oakland. We’ll be shifting our focus to other projects.”
From the moment it was announced, the beer garden project faced opposition from locals. Some of the complaints were simply based on fears that the beer garden would be a noisy disruption—given veracity by the fact that the Sacramento Golden Road location had to change its hours to appease the noise complaints of its neighbors. But more visibly, the Golden Road location in Oakland was opposed by craft beer fans, who accused the “corporate” brand of trying to undercut the area’s locally owned and independent breweries, restaurants and bars. In a statement to the website Berkeleyside, Sam Gilbert, the owner of the neighborhood’s Temescal Brewing, said the following: ”[The project is] part of a larger, deliberate attack on local, independent beer by a multinational beer conglomerate that does not share the values of us or our customers.”
The result was a coalition of concerned, allied citizens, who formed a community group called the Temescal Friends to oppose the Golden Road taproom. The group distributed flyers and created petitions to get the word out, and succeeded in getting quite a bit of national news coverage for their stance against Golden Road. The brewery responded by reducing the size and scope of the planned beer garden, but the locals wouldn’t budge, and their message remained the same: We don’t want you in our neighborhood. Eventually, Golden Road had no choice but to acquiesce, in what stands as a rather public embarrassment. Other AB InBev-owned breweries have faced similar backlashes, including the memorable statement made by the guy who flew a “10 Barrel is not craft beer” banner plane over San Diego last year.
“We’re very happy that this project as canned, so to speak,” said Diana Stasko, who founded the Temescal Friends group. “It really indicates the power that people have to determine the type of businesses they want in their neighborhood.”
Golden Road was acquired by AB InBev in 2015 and rapidly expanded in size and scope. The corporation no doubt saw a potentially valuable brand in the huge L.A. market, not in the least because Golden Road had a young, female co-founder in the form of Meg Gill, the company’s public face—still a rarity in the craft beer world. Gill was quickly given her own TV show on Viceland as a platform to preach an AB InBev-friendly vision of “craft beer”—suffice to say, the show wasn’t well received by beer geeks, and was accused by many of simply serving as propaganda for its parent company. Gill even lifted a Trump-ism at one point by saying that reports of Golden Road being part of Anheuser-Busch were “fake news,” despite the fact that they are indeed 100% owned by AB InBev.
Golden Road is of course just one of many former craft breweries, at home in the U.S. and abroad, to have been acquired by AB InBev since the sale of Goose Island in 2011 kicked off a Big Beer buying spree. Since then, AB InBev has bought out the likes of Elysian, Devil’s Backbone, Four Peaks, Blue Point, 10 Barrel and Wicked Weed in addition to Golden Road, although the pace of acquisitions has now slowed, as the mega corporation has turned its attention toward growing those brands.
Perhaps ironically, the same street will soon see the opening of a different beer garden, but one that is independently owned. Stasko, speaking with Berkeleyside, summed up the apparent feelings of many, saying the following:
“I don’t know that we need two beerhouses within a block of each other, but it’s better than an open-air corporate beer garden that doesn’t care about the impact they have on the neighbors.”