Suds vs. BUDS

Like the Hatfields and McCoys, the Gators and the Bulldogs, Lenny Curry and Anna Lopez Brosche, alcohol and cannabis have been bitter enemies from time immemorial, which is always a surprise to regular folks who note how well the two go together. With the emergence of a formalized marijuana industry over the last few years, what was traditionally a low-key, back-channel feud has metastasized into a full-blown death struggle. America’s vast network of breweries and distilleries is certainly in no danger of dissolution, now or ever, but like a White House intern caught unaware by the president, they’re feeling the pinch.

To wit: Fortune Magazine reported on Feb. 15 of alarmist rhetoric emanating from the most recent financial report issued by Molson Coors Brewing, an ace purveyor of watery suds with roots going back to the 18th century. With revenue reaching nearly $5 billion in 2016, they have the beer biz down to a sweet science, but now the company perceives that weed is an outlier on the come-up. 

“Although the ultimate impact is currently unknown,” they write, “the emergence of legal cannabis in certain U.S. states and Canada may result in a shift of discretionary income away from our products or a change in consumer preferences away from beer,” according to a Valentine’s Day Securities & Exchange Commission filing.

Their peers will rightly scoff at the idea of any challenge to their primacy, since the real danger they face is posed by the explosive growth of craft-brewers coast to coast, which became a billion-dollar business seemingly overnight. There may be something to it: Fortune cites similar language used by parent companies of venerable brands like Sam Adams and Corona, as well as Craft Brew Alliance, a consortium of eight Pacific Northwest brewers that pushes out roughly 725,000 barrels a year. They add that Constellation Brands, a behemoth company dealing in beer, wine and liquor, invested nearly $200 million in marijuana interests in Canada.

For their part, Molson Coors boasts a rather intimate knowledge of these trends; logical, since they’re headquartered in Denver, epicenter of the medical marijuana movement. Only four hours away, their neighbors in Aspen just hit a major tipping-point: Last year, marijuana sales reached $11.3 million, almost a full million more than the $10.5 million made on alcohol sales.

That news went over like pole-vaulters at Trump’s border wall, sparking fear and loathing within an industry that, lest we forget, played a crucial role in getting marijuana banned way back in the day. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but pot’s payback is being dished out flaming hot, literally.