Last week was an especially zesty one in the beer world, even if those stories didn’t make front-page mainstream news. All of the week’s major beer stories were financial in nature, which could look snoozy to the average beer drinker. But behind the financial moves are intriguing story lines involving brewery buy-outs and pissed-off Germans. Let’s dive in!
Avery, one of the beloved elder statesmen of the American craft beer world, sold a 40% stake to Spanish beer company Mahou San Miguel last week. Mahou already owned a 30% stake in Avery, so it now controls a majority interest in the Boulder, Colorado-based brewery. Mahou partnered with Founders—a Grand Rapids, Michigan brewery that Mahou owns a minority stake in as well—to deepen its investment in Avery.
What does this mean? That as the beer market becomes increasingly competitive and legacy breweries struggle to keep up, I think we’ll see more breweries-buying-breweries deals, and not just with Anheuser-Busch InBev or MillerCoors involved. Exhibit B...
Eugene, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing also announced a new majority owner last week: Legacy Breweries Inc. The newly founded Legacy Breweries aims to buy out other craft breweries to create a collective that will give its members advantages in terms of ingredients purchasing power as well as access to shared production equipment. Legacy Breweries CEO Don Bryant, a former hop company CEO, was candid in an interview with Brewbound about the company’s plans: Legacy hopes to purchase two more Ninkasi-sized breweries (Ninkasi is the 35th largest craft brewery in the U.S.) in the Midwest and East regions, then supplement them with 10-15 smaller breweries in those areas. It seems like those larger breweries could potentially become centers for the smaller breweries, perhaps brewing some of their beers and helping them scale up production.
It’s an ambitious plan, but not entirely unprecedented. In 2015, Oskar Blues and other breweries founded CANarchy, a collective that now includes Perrin Brewing Company, Cigar City Brewing, Squatters Craft Beers and Wasatch Brewery, Deep Ellum Brewing Company and Three Weavers Brewing Company. The breweries share resources, and have even released mixed packages of their beers. Whether through Legacy or other similar companies, I think we’ll see more of this type of partnership in the future.
This news doesn’t impact U.S. drinkers unless they’re planning to travel to Berlin, but it’s worth reading this story for the drama alone. Escondido, California-based Stone Brewing, which is currently suing MillerCoors over the term “stone,” said last week it will sell its Berlin facility to Scottish beer company BrewDog. Stone reportedly spent about $30 million building the brewery and “destination restaurant” in 2014.
But here’s the real intrigue: In a blog post he wrote “against professional counsel”—always a good start—Stone CEO Greg Koch says that, in essence, Germany just wasn’t ready for how awesome Stone is. “When we saw much of Germany stuck in a similar status quo of cheap beer, we were convinced we could help,” he writes, with an attitude many in the beer world have criticized as patronizing to a country that has brewed incredible beer for hundreds of years. “Amazing beer is being brewed by amazing brewers all over [Germany]. Unfortunately, according to the stats, most Germans are still ignoring these wonderful beers and buying the cheap stuff.”
I think there are likely many German beer drinkers this week telling Koch not to let the door hit him on the way out.
Beer has for a long time been America’s alcohol of choice. But new numbers from the Beer Institute reported by Brewbound show that beer now makes up less than half of all alcohol volume consumed in the U.S., losing ground to wine and liquor. For comparison, in 2000, beer made up 58 percent of American alcohol consumption.
This obviously isn’t welcome news for beer, though the silver lining is that craft beer had a decent year in 2018 and consumer spending on beer is still growing, albeit modestly. Beer’s decreasing volume will likely continue into 2019, the Beer Institute predicts, which will mean breweries have to make new moves to stay afloat. Expect to see more acquisitions and partnerships, like those above, in the coming year.