Last fall, I got to spend close to a month in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on a work trip. I had only a few days off during the trip, but I made the most of them, playing tourist and enjoying the sights and sounds of Amsterdam. Even more important, of course, was the food and drink of Amsterdam. Frankly, this aspect of the trip was somewhat disappointing, as most restaurants in Amsterdam are fairly American-ized. I had a few of the local delicacies, such as bitterballen, which is an oddly-textured beef croquette. The food scene probably would have gone better if I had had more time to explore the guts of the city. I expect, given such an opportunity, the beer scene would NOT go much better.
With the exception of The Beer Temple, an honest-to-goodness American craft beer bar, the Amsterdam beer scene was similarly disappointing--an endless collection of pale lagers and weak dunkel-style dark beers. The beer scene is led, of course, by a titan of Dutch industry: Heineken.
As you are probably aware, Amsterdam has been home to Heineken for well over a century. While I would never cop to being a big Heineken fan, there certainly was the Guinness-in-Ireland sort of effect--whether a result of freshness, a question of who is producing it in the U.S., a mere illusion, or some other reason--the Heineken IN Amsterdam DOES taste better--a slight hint of sweetness early on that I never recalled tasting here in the States.
Regardless, based on my time in Amsterdam, and my general experience with the Heineken brand, I never expected to see "Heineken" and "American craft beer" cross paths.
Earlier today, Heineken announced a 50% ownership stake in California's Lagunitas Brewing Company. This seems to be a bit of surprising announcement in the craft beer world, especially from a brewery that seemed to have a fairly singular presence in the pale/light lager category of beer. But according to today's announcement, Heineken is, indeed, seeking to change their reputation, claiming "Lagunitas provides HEINEKEN with the opportunity to build a strong foothold in the dynamic Craft Brewing category on a global scale, with the category growing in popularity almost everywhere now." The agreement utilizes Heineken's distribution and production resources (some 180 breweries) to expand Lagunitas' on a global scale, a reach that will only be furthered by the 2017 opening of their 3rd brewery in Azura, California (joining existing facilities in Petaluma, CA and Chicago, IL).
In a quote to the Santa Rosa/Sonoma County, CA Press Democrat, Lagunitas owner Tony Magee says the new union "would not change the soul of the...company or diminish the quality of its beers." History seems to support that statement. While some craft beer consumers continue to bemoan macrobreweries' continued acquisitions of microbreweries--such as AB InBev's purchase of Goose Island in Chicago, among others--there is no evidence that such acquisitions result in declines in craft beer quality. In fact, the AB Inbevs of the world acquire breweries because they want to ACQUIRE THAT CRAFT BEER QUALITY! A declining product would only be a waste of their investments. Now, part of continuing that quality is making sure you retain the people, and Magee and the Lagunitas work force are apparently going to remain. Thus, while keeping an eye on things, I see little reason to expect a loss of quality from Lagunitas' impressive beer line-up.
Though, it would be nice if Heineken made sure they didn't make ads bemoaning craft beers, like our friends at Bud Light did.