Maine craft beer brewers reacted cautiously Thursday to word this week that the U.S. Justice Department has approved the merger of two of the world’s largest beer companies.

The department said Wednesday that it would approve the merger of Anheuser-Busch InBev and SAB Miller with the stipulation that some of the combined companies’ largest brands will be spun off and the combined company will be barred from distribution practices that could hurt smaller brewers.

The merged company will sell its stake in MillerCoors as a condition for the $101 billion deal to go through. That means AB InBev will keep its Budweiser, Beck’s and Stella Artois brands, but Miller and some European beer brands will be sold off. The company will also face restrictions on ownership of distributors and won’t be able to provide incentives to independent distributors that would increase sales of AB InBev brands at the expense of rival beers.

Smaller brewers in Maine praised the restrictions but said they still fear the deal will create a powerhouse company that will be able to control the market.

“While we are grateful that the DOJ has required certain stipulations to this unprecedented mega-merger, the simple fact is that this will still be a net negative for beer fans and the craft beer industry as a whole,” said Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Maine Brewers’ Guild. “Consumers will be left with fewer choices at the bar and grocery store.” But, Sullivan said, “it could have been worse if the stipulations regarding distribution incentives and divestiture of MillerCoors were not included.”

He said the hope among craft brewers is that restrictions on the merged company will leave enough room in the market for craft brewers to survive and thrive.


“As a new Goliath forms, trust that Maine’s craft beer brewers will be the collective David who will continue to show that prioritizing quality beer over quantity, catering to local tastes and connecting deeply with their communities is a recipe for long-term success,” Sullivan said.

Maine brewers have carved out a sizable place in the craft beer market. The state ranks sixth nationally in breweries per capita and seventh in per capita beer production.

Craft brewers are also concerned that the beer behemoth could make it more difficult and expensive for smaller brewers to get the products they need to make beer.

“The more leverage and buying power is concentrated, the more impact it could have on smaller purchasers,” said Heather Sanborn, the president of Rising Tide Brewing Co. in Portland and president of the Maine Brewers’ Guild.

But Sanborn said it was likely that regulators couldn’t adopt restrictions on commodity sales to address those concerns.

Maine Sen. Angus King was among a group of senators who late last year urged the Justice Department to require conditions to make sure that the mega-merger did not hurt craft brewers. The merged company should not be allowed “to squeeze out America’s craft brewing industry,” the senators said in a November letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

The deal still requires approval of the merger from China, but the companies have agreed to sell off the maker of Snow beer, which is the world’s top-selling beer brand. That’s expected to mean Chinese regulators will approve the deal.


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