Below is an updating list of “Ex-Craft” Beer; that is, craft beer brands or producers that have been bought out by a larger drinks company.
The beer may be exactly the same, but some would argue that the spirit of craft has been replaced by the love of capital. These breweries become a pawn in the strategy of global drink conglomerates, and the ex craft beer becomes the butt of the craft community’s jokes.
The press releases usually call it something like a “joint venture”, a “strategic partnership”, a “merger”, or a “combining” of two well known names.
Below is a list of some of the more surprising and significant “sell-outs”, with a brief explanation of the context.
Ex Craft Beer: The Big List
Goose Island – Bought by ABInBev for $38.8 million, March 2011
The first big name in craft beer to accept a major offer, and the offer came from the biggest name in beer. It was a shock to many that such a respected name would sell out to the company the craft beer community would consider worse than the devil, but Goose Island had a link to ABInBev since 2006, having sold a stake to the Craft Brewers Alliance, of which ABInBev owned 32%.
Founders – 30% stake bought by Mahou-San Miguel for an unknown amount, Dec 2014
30% is a big chunk, but by no means a controlling stake. Founders didn’t sell out completely then, but they did technically lose their “craft” status, as the Brewer’s Association do not regard any producers who are more than 25% owned by another non-craft brewing company as a craft brewery. Confused? I think everyone is. Since then, Founders has increased distribution to Europe, with the 17th largest craft brewery in the States solidly connecting its name to the craft beer label in an ever-expanding export market.
Meantime – Bought by SABMiller for an unknown amount, March 2015
The craft capture crosses the pond for the first time, with a well-known and well-respected producer gobbled up by the second largest brewing company in the world. Meantime were one of Britain’s first US craft beer-inspired breweries – one of the original cohort of keg-forward beer producers. Nick Miller, CEO of Meantime at the time of the takeover, was formerly the Managing Director of SAB Miller’s UK operating company, Miller Brands.
Firestone Walker – Bought by Duvel Moortgat for an estimated $250 million, July 2015
A brewery known for the supreme quality of one beer in particular. Parabola is a highly prized 14% Imperial Stout. It’s strength and bold flavour made it a king among kings, giving it quite a reputation and giving Firestone Walker a large and dedicated global fanbase. The brewery was bought by family-owned Belgian brewing company Duvel-Moortgat (who also bought Boulevard Brewing, one of America’s largest craft breweries that was less known outside of the states, in 2013). Duvel-Moortgat was listed as the 12th largest craft brewer in America in 2014 (thanks to its ownership of Boulevard), with Firestone listed at 16th. The “merger” will likely see Firestone Walker disappear from the 2015 list, and Duvel-Moortgat climb up a little.
Lagunitas – 50% stake bought by Heineken for an estimated $500 million , September 2015
The 6th largest craft brewer in America as of 2014 is known for its relaxed attitude, it’s irreverent stories on the beer bottles, and weed. They were served a 20 day suspension of operations order after undercover police investigated reports marijuana being sold to by employees. It would prove false, on a technicality, with founder Tony Magee later stating “no one was willing to sell it to them, but everyone was willing to give it to them for free.” It was surprising, then, that half of the company would be sold to a corporate giant like Heineken. Crucially, the sale was of exactly half. No controlling stakes, no majority shareholder. A fifty-fifty split. Maybe the big companies really are capable of truly joint ventures. Pun was not intended, but I’ll take the credit anyway.
Ballast Point – Bought by Constellation Brands (Importers of Corona) for $1 billion, Nov 2015
That isn’t a typo. One. Billion. Dollars. With a big, fat, juicy capital B. B for boggling, as in mind boggling.
Ballast Point were listed as the 31st largest craft brewery in the US in 2015. Their reputation exploded after 2014, with internationally recognised rock-star brewers BrewDog going full-on fanboy and shoving Ballast Point’s Sculpin in the faces of everybody who’d turn around long enough. Grapefruit and Habanero versions followed, in a simple and elegant dog-whistle to craft wankers everywhere. Ballast Point quickly became the cool kid. Cue courting, with Corona owner Constellation Brands bidding a whopping sum of money that I think is physically impossible to say no to.
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The takeovers are becoming more regular, more high profile, and more financially impressive. Most of the big players have grabbed a slice of the action, with craft beer the only segment of a shrinking industry that has shown continuous growth.
With ABInBev buying SABMiller, MillerCoors (wholly owned by MolsonCoors) will become the second largest brewer in the US. With “crafty” brands like Blue Moon in its portfolio, it may be content with its offering. But I doubt it. Without a true craft brand, it will fall behind, so maybe Sierra Nevada, Deschutes or Gambrinus will receive an offer with lots of zeros soon and become the latest ex Craft Beer producer. It has bought Ireland’s Fransiscan Well, but it was hardly a big name takeover.
Perhaps the Carlsberg Group will be the next buyer. The other four of the world’s five top brewing companies have bought a craft brewery (sort of, with CR Snow Breweries of China through the 49% share held by SABMiller). Maybe it’s set its sights on a European craft brewery like Meantime. BrewDog are surely now too large – more of a buyer than a seller now (with a stake in Brew By Numbers). But what about Camden Town, Beavertown, or one of the other trendy London breweries? Or Magic Rock? Or Innis & Gunn? Europe is a slightly different beast, with less regional brand loyalty, but there’s plenty of options. Maybe Mikkeller? Birra del Borgo? Or a more traditional, older brewery, like Cantillon?
I’ll be turning this post into a page, which will be updated with any large movements in the beer industry, and listing any ex Craft Beer when they lose that status.