In June, RateBeer.com’s Joe Tucker announced that he received investment money from Anheuser-Busch-InBev owned XZ Ventures. So why does this matter in the scheme of things? Well, it highlights a rift in the craft beer industry between those who are keen on keeping their brands and business out of the hands of corporate big beer.
For those at Dogfish Head, this move was “a direct violation of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics and a blatant conflict of interest.” They determined this business decision to be a conflict of interest due to the guidelines from the “Act Independently” section of the code of ethics:
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.
According to Dogfish Head, since one of the largest American beer corporations now has a horse in the race, RateBeer.com has lost some of its independence and is now responsible to the whims of the larger company.
Perhaps that doesn’t mean that they’ve lost their integrity completely, but now they are not free to act completely independently. And in the small world of craft brewing, that can make all the difference.
Dogfish Head’s Reaction
To underscore the strength of their dissent at the decision, Dogfish Head has asked Anheuser-Busch InBev and RateBeer to remove all Dogfish Head beer reviews and mentions on the RateBeer website.
They do not feel that it is right for a “brewer of any kind to be in a position to potentially manipulate what consumers are hearing and saying about beers, how they are rated and which ones are receiving extra publicity on what might appear to be a legitimate, 100 percent user-generated platform.”
For those at Dogfish Head, it is not so much that they have an issue with RateBeer.com investing in their future, it is the lack of transparency that they find dubious and against which they are taking a stance. In addition, the team at Dogfish Head is encouraging other brewers to follow suit.