Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Nøgne Ø - the death of independence?

Grimstad based Nøgne Ø - Det Kompromissløse Bryggeri, the brewery that more than anyone else brought the craft beer revolution to Norway, a winner of many international beer awards and a role model for numerous Norwegian craft breweries, has been acquired by Hansa Borg Bryggerier, the second largest brewery group in Norway. This was confirmed at a press conference at the Nøgne Ø brewery plant at Gamle Rygene earlier today, November 27th 2013.

Nøgne Ø Wet Hop Ale - the last hurrah?

Today's Hansa Borg acquisition of 54,44% of the shares in Nøgne Ø can be viewed in both positive and negative lights. On the positive side, this means that the best Norwegian craft breweries have reached a level of maturity and market penetration that makes the big breweries take notice. And with Hansa Borg's financial muscles, Nøgne Ø beers should now become even more available across the country. That is obviously a good thing.

On the down side, Nøgne Ø is not an independent company anymore and may have to curtail its famous "no compromise" profile, in accordance with the wishes of the new owners, who are not known for their daring beers or compromise-less attitudes.

I find it particularly sad that after the difficult years they've been through, hardly making a profit, and just when things were starting to look good (Nøgne Ø made a 6,6 million NOK profit last year), the old owners threw in the towel, handing over the brewery to a big company to milk the name for what it's worth. If any Norwegian brewery could have made the transition from small craft brewery to a successful business, it should have been Nøgne Ø. By giving up now they send a strong signal to smaller craft breweries: You can only go so far as an independent brewery. I don't think so. I still feel that independent breweries have a rasion d'être, by challenging concepts and brewing beer that may not look like instant hits. And I also believe you can run a successful craft brewery, making money, without the financial backing of a large corporation. Sadly the former owners of Nøgne Ø didn't think so.

The Hansa Borg takeover also feels like a kick in the stomach to those of us who have supported the brewery through thick and thin, buying their beer and spreading the word to friends and colleagues. After almost ten years as a fan, I feel a kind of "ownership" to the Nøgne Ø brand name. I don't want to see that name sullied. And neither does it feel right that the money I spend on Nøgne Ø beer from now on will line the pockets of the Hansa Borg owners. Not right at all.

I'm sure Hansa Borg owned Nøgne Ø will continue to brew many excellent beers, just like Anheuser-Busch owned Goose Island still does, but I really find it hard to be a wholehearted supporter of Nøgne Ø from now on.

The main question left lingering after this acquisition is: Can the other major craft breweries, such as Kinn, Ægir and HaandBryggeriet, survive on their own terms or will their independence, one by one, vanish into the deep pockets of the big brewery groups?

Snapshot from a happier time
- Nøgne Ø Cask Night at Bar & Cigar in May 2008

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