It’s the question on every craft brewery owner’s mind: who’s next?
After a record-breaking year that included at least 24 different craft brewery transactions (infographic below), it’s no longer a matter of if, but when a prominent craft beer company will announce some kind of sale.
In 2015, those announcements came in various forms — strategic acquisitions by big beer companies, private equity investments, new joint ventures, management buyouts and the establishment of employee stock ownership plans.
It’s all part of the market nowadays. Name a rapidly expanding craft brewery — or even one that’s simply been around for more than 20 years — and chances are there’s someone talking about a possible sale. It’s just a fact of life when the business is booming, breweries are changing hands weekly and, in some cases, when there’s a private equity investment to start the clock ticking.
And in the wake of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s holiday shopping spree — one that saw the company acquire Colorado’s Breckenridge Brewery, Arizona’s Four Peaks Brewing and London’s Camden Town Brewery over the course of three business days — the rumor mill started churning once again.
For specific evidence, look no further than Bloomberg, which this morning reported that Mahou-San Miguel — the Spanish beer company that last year acquired a 30 percent stake in Michigan’s Founders Brewing — is looking to make another investment in the U.S. craft space. The target this time? A pioneering craft brand — Anchor Brewing.
These days, the mill feels more like a turbine. Hardly a week goes by where another rumor of a brewery sale doesn’t cross our desks. Some come attached with acronymic qualifiers like “LOI” or “NDA,” but that does little to validate the claims and it does absolutely nothing to prove what deals may or may not be on the horizon. Others, the callers insist, are “off the record” when they are simply unprovable rumors.
Nevertheless, here’s how out of control the rumor turbine has gotten: yesterday, Brewbound was contacted by a prominent top-25 craft brewery, adamantly denying a story that they’re for sale even before the story has hit the wire.
So what does one make of a pre-denial denial? Multiple sources Brewbound spoke to indicated that a “book” on the brewery has been shopped to potential buyers and that those buyers have reviewed the company as a potential investment. We’ll admit it — we haven’t laid eyes on that book, and we aren’t going to report that the brewery is for sale. But what do we make of the pre-emptive denial?
In a statement provided by the company, its founder said the brewery was “not engaged in any sale discussions whatsoever.”
Brewery officials also told Brewbound that a yet-to-be published Reuters report, which will purportedly cite a “credible” source and claim that the brewery is exploring a sale, isn’t true.
If Reuters breaks the story, it would be the second time in the last week that Reuters has been tipped about a potential craft deal. Just last Friday, writers Lauren Hirsch and Olivia Oran penned an exclusive story claiming that New Belgium Brewing, the country’s fourth-largest craft brewery, was also for sale.
In a statement, New Belgium founder Kim Jordan wouldn’t confirm the report, but she didn’t exactly deny it either.
“New Belgium Brewing’s Board of Directors has an obligation to have on-going dialogue with the capital markets with the goal of making sure that we remain strong as leaders in the craft brewing industry. There is no deal pending at this time.”
In recent months, Hirsch has established herself as a prolific deal whisperer in the craft space. A story filed on Aug. 19 accurately predicted that Ballast Point Brewing, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Lagunitas Brewing were exploring possible sales. All three companies have since transacted — Constellation Brands acquired Ballast Point for $1 billion in last month and, in September, both Dogfish Head and Lagunitas sold stakes.
Does that mean their sources are better than ours? Who knows. We feel like we’ve had our share of scoops, and there have certainly been a lot of them going around. We think our sources are credible, but we also have an editorial obligation to report the facts when we can prove them. We owe that to our readers, although we are in no way questioning Reuters’ — or anyone else’s — credibility by saying that.
Nevertheless, for as many big fish that Reuters, and Hirsch, have reeled in, there are still a few hooks in the water. In that same Aug. 19 story, Hirsch indicated that “more than a dozen” craft breweries, including Brooklyn Brewery, were exploring sales.
That may still be true: the market is still hot, and there’s mounting evidence to support the claim. Since the report, seven craft breweries, including Dogfish, Ballast Point and Lagunitas, have been involved in a transaction. A-B InBev has purchased three of them — Breckenridge Brewery, Four Peaks Brewing and Golden Road Brewing — and MillerCoors bought Saint Archer in September.
But a July report also filed by Hirsch claimed that Atlanta-based Sweetwater — which is also planning to build a second brewing facility out west — was preparing for a public offering. The company has yet to file a form S-1 with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and one source not affiliated with the brewery that Brewbound spoke to believes that option is off the table.
So where does that leave the rumor mill? Apparently, still churning. While it does, we hope you’ll take a moment to review an infographic including all of the craft brewery transactions that occurred in 2015. (We suggest opening this infographic in a new window and/or downloading to your desktop for optimal viewing)