Newport Craft Brewing and Distilling has added another New York City-based brand to its portfolio with the acquisition of Radiant Pig Beer Company, the company announced yesterday.
Newport CEO Brendan O’Donnell told Brewbound that Radiant Pig, which Rob Pihl founded in 2013, gives Newport Craft more access to New York, “which is now really a closed market for new breweries.” The deal closed on June 16 and terms were not disclosed.
O’Donnell was first introduced to Radiant Pig a few years ago during a Newport Craft team outing to Tavern 6 Two 1, a bar and restaurant then-owned by James “JR” Rodrigues, who is now Newport Craft’s chief operating officer.
“We were trying all the Newport Craft beers that he had on, but then he’s like ‘Try this beer, it’s called Save the Robots,’” O’Donnell said, referring to Radiant Pig’s flagship IPA. “We were all just kind of floored by it.”
Pihl has contract brewed Radiant Pig at various breweries since its founding; his most recent contract location was Dorchester Brewing in Boston. Radiant Pig will now have a home at Newport Craft’s brewery in Newport, Rhode Island.
“It’s been kind of a lean and mean operation to date, so it’s a really exciting opportunity to be able to work with all these guys,” Pihl said.
The move is a New England homecoming of sorts for Pihl, a Massachusetts native, who lives in New York full time and will commute when needed to Newport. Pihl is taking an equity stake in the company and will serve as its Radiant Pig brewmaster and brand ambassador. Newport Craft brewmaster Ben Chambers joined the company two months ago. Radiant Pig will brew its first batch in Newport on July 6.
Neither Radiant Pig nor Braven Brewing, the Brooklyn-based brand Newport Craft acquired in April 2019, currently have physical presences in New York City. Marshall S. Thompson and Eric Feldman founded Braven in 2013 and opened a brewery in September 2018, which closed the location in March 2019.
A contact at S.K.I. Beer Distributors, which sells Braven, connected Pihl with the Newport Craft team and conversations began.
“We realized we had the same goals, and we had the same kind of personalities, and with this environment we’re in right now, it’s power in numbers,” O’Donnell said. “With us being able to have a facility in Newport where we’re making beer and controlling our supply chain. Rob saw it as a huge benefit to be able to make everything up in Newport with the goal down the line to start doing it back in New York, so we’re really excited about it.”
Last year, Radiant Pig’s volume increased 25%, to 1,250 barrels, according to the Brewers Association. Pihl, whose background is in art and design, ran Radiant Pig without a salesforce.
Newport Craft has hired former FIFCO USA sales manager Jessica Woodcome to serve as Radiant Pig’s dedicated sales executive. She’ll be tasked with securing placements in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Five other sales employees will also represent Radiant Pig.
“One of the things for Rob, he never had a sales rep before, so right now we went from zero to six, and we’re about to push really hard,” O’Donnell said.
The addition of Radiant Pig aligned with Newport Craft’s purchase of a 60-barrel fermentation tank and Woodcome’s hiring, which O’Donnell sees as good omens for growth.
Last year, the company produced 4,500 barrels, and O’Donnell expects volume for 2020 to be between 7,500 and 10,000 barrels.
In addition to the acquisition of Radiant Pig, Newport Craft also announced an expansion project that will break ground this summer.
“We’re in the process of constructing a facility that’s going to easily allow us to do between 25,000 and 50,000 barrels in the near future,” O’Donnell said. “So that’s what we’re really building towards. It’s not just aspirational — we have the demand after talking to all the distributors, and it’s just a matter of being able to make the product.”
Newport Craft and Radiant Pig available in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Maine. Braven is available in New York City, Long Island and Rhode Island, with special releases in Massachusetts.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s effect on the brands has been mixed. Radiant Pig’s off-premise sales increased, but Braven’s planned partnership with the New York Mets couldn’t launch.
“We just shifted our focus to cans only for the time being, and we were sort of under-serving the market, as it were, so we didn’t really have a major hit on that front,” Pihl said of Radiant Pig’s past few months. “If anything, it just delayed us getting started a bit with being able to ramp up and actually being able to do more stuff in person.”
Newport Craft’s business leans slightly more toward off-premise sales, about 60% in total, with more on-premise draft sales in the summertime as its hometown reawakens for the season. However, Summer 2020 is shaping up to be quite different.
“Everybody’s just waiting for business to open back up,” Rodrigues said. “The on-premise just still isn’t there. When you look at these places, nobody’s dining indoors; it’s all outside. So it’s really hit and miss. We’re expecting probably mid-July, as things start to loosen up, is when we’ll really see more.”
Rodrigues and O’Donnell said many on-premise accounts are selling cans, rather than draft, and have cut several lines out of their draft operations.
“We see it as an opportunity too, because right now we’re in a position that we have the capability to ramp up production,” O’Donnell said. “When it does open back up, we see an opportunity to get a lot of draft lines across all our states, so that’s something we’re going to really focus on: Building our draft business back up.”