This Bud is For the Highest Bidder

The great, gobbling beer merger beast is, here in the summer of 2008, most definitely alive and very well.

Some of the mergers that we have seen in the past are beginning to look tiny, by comparison. Remember the Molson-Coors merger of not so long ago? Chicken feed, it is now beginning to seem.

Right now, SAB Miller is entering into some sort of merger with Coors in the U.S., which we can only imagine will ultimately involve Molson, the Canadian partner of Coors.

SAB Miller is the largest brewery in the world (or, more correctly, brewing group). Its website lists 45 separate brands in Africa, 22 in Asia, 55 in Europe, 37 in Latin America and 28 in North America.

These guys are huge.

But wait, there is even something bigger on the horizon. As we write this, Inbev is throwing together a bid to buy out Anheuser-Busch. You may remember Inbev, they are a merger of Interbrew from Europe and Ambev from South America.

Interbrew were the guys who bought Labatt a few years ago. According to reports, Interbrew is planning to put $46 billion on the table for the King of Beers. It makes these multi-million dollar deals look a wee bit meagre.

Now, according to reports, the King of Beers is not going to roll over easily. For years, August A. Busch IV coveted the throne occupied by August A. Busch III. Four (as he is called) has been sitting in the chair for only 18 months now that Three has retired. And, according to reports, Four feels that he has a lot to prove to Three.

An offer by Inbev would put the 43-year-old Four in a tough spot. If A-B is sold to Inbev, he could be remembered as the member of the founding Busch family who let the famous icon slip into foreign hands. The Busch family controls less than four per cent of the stock, so even if a majority opposed the deal, it can’t block it.

But, talk of a takeover carries even more personal considerations for Mr. Busch: his tenuous relationship with his 70-year-old father, now an A-B director. The younger Mr. Busch says he wants to show his father what he can do to revive the struggling brewer.

In an interview earlier this month, Four said he is still seeking Dad’s admiration. “His love and respect will be mine when I’m ultimately successful,” he says.

The whole A-B story is fascinating. So much so, that we are going to write a short series of A-B Buzzes, coming in the next issues.

After all, in the brewing world, there is not a single more successful story of a family operation. Since we may be witnessing the final chapter of this story in the coming weeks, we think it makes sense to delve into it a bit.

Stay tuned.

This column is courtesy of the Yukon Brewing Company, an organization that believes soap operas belong on television, not in the boardrooms of the world’s breweries.

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