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Klobuchar, Lawmakers Aim To Dunk Beer Merger In Suds

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A plan to merge two of the biggest beer makers in the world is raising concerns about a monopoly.

Anheuser-Busch InBev, Inc., intends to buy SABMiller. But before the deal can go through, it needs the federal government's approval. At a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar questioned beer industry leaders.

The Democrat asked how Minnesota's craft breweries could be impacted by the move.

Northeast Minneapolis is where you'll find a cluster of craft breweries. Across Minnesota, there are now about 100 open. Indeed Brewing Company is one of them.

"We've seen a lot of new breweries open and we've seen a lot of growth. And the growth has come from not just seeing more beer on the market. You've seen more bars expanding their craft beer options," Indeed Brewing Co-Owner Tom Whisenand said.

The owners of craft breweries are concerned about a possible merger that would bring together two companies that produced more than 70 percent of all beer sold in the United States last year. The deal could affect the distribution of locally-made beer and prices.

"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," Whisenand said. "The little guys don't have much of an ability to do that."

He's also on the board of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Members of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on anti-trust laws and competition raised questions about the proposed merger of Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller. Sen. Klobuchar is on the committee and asked many questions of the CEO of Anheuser Busch, Carlos Brito.

We talked with Senator Klobuchar on the phone after the hearing. She wants conditions protecting craft breweries spelled out in writing before the merger is approved.

"We got them to commit, these big CEOs, they will not do anything to interfere with the distribution of craft beer. Because believe me, they control a lot of these wholesalers," Sen. Klobuchar said. "A lot of our breweries, they are not like Target or Walmart, they don't have their own distribution network. They rely on wholesalers."

Under the deal, the Miller brand would be sold to rival Molson Coors. Sen. Klobuchar says the next step is for the committee to send recommendations to the Justice Department, which ultimately decides if the merger goes through.

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