Klobuchar worries craft brewers could get bottled up by mega-beer deal

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The big deal brewing in the beer world is the proposed acquisition of SABMiller by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The $106 billion deal needs federal approval, but the Minnesota senator who holds a prime spot on an anti-trust committee wants to see the plan modified to protect the craft brewers springing up around the state and country.

At a Capitol Hill hearing Tuesday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said she doesn't oppose a merger creating a mega-brewer – provided it includes assurances that small beermakers will not be muscled off store shelves by a company that would control 70 percent of the U.S. beer market, the Associated Press reports.

Klobuchar is the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee's subcomittee on anti-trust, competition policy, and consumer rights. She explained her concerns about the proposed beer deal when she announced in October that the panel would hold a hearing.

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild now lists 90 members, some of whom share the senator's concerns. The co-owner of Indeed Brewing in Minneapolis, Tom Whisenand, tells WCCO:

“These bigger breweries, the big national the ones talking about merging, they have a lot of power and a lot of sway to influence what goes on those shelves, whether it be through certain promotions, incentives for distributors or liquor stores.” 

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Reuters reports the CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, Carlos Brito, used Tuesday's hearing to reassure senators that the deal would not lead to wholesalers shutting down the flow of craft beers to retail markets, suggesting that what the big breweries want out of the deal is more access to markets in Africa, Asia, and South America.

The AP says in 25 years craft breweries have seen their share of the U.S. beer market grow from 1 percent to 11 percent. And some who've been part of that growth are optimistic it will continue.

Jamie MacFarlane, co-owner of Castle Danger Brewery in Two Harbors, told the news service, "I do feel that a big reason why craft breweries are so prevalent right now is because people like local, and they want to know where their beer is coming from."

Klobuchar says recommendations from the anti-trust subcommittee will be forwarded to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to approve the deal.

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