Orlando, Florida-based Brew Theory has reached a licensing agreement with Portland, Maine-headquartered Shipyard Brewing to produce and sell the company’s portfolio of products in the Sunshine State.
“Jeremy and his company have the same kind of passion we have for Florida and strong belief in the craft business down here,” Shipyard co-founder and CEO Fred Forsley said, referring to Brew Theory founder Jeremy Roberts. “In the last three to six years, [craft beer has] just exploded in Florida and to be honest, we’re looking as we evolve — I’m getting a little older — for people that we can collaborate with and grow our brand.”
Forsley views the deal as an investment in the state, rather than Shipyard abandoning one of its oldest markets. News of the deal was first reported on by Craft Brew News.
“It’s not an exit in any way in Florida,” Forsley said. “In fact, it’s a way for us to hopefully keep growing in Florida, long into the future.”
In recent years, Shipyard’s volume has fluctuated and the brewery has slid up and down the Brewers Association’s (BA) rankings of the nation’s top 50 craft breweries by volume. In 2019, Shipyard ranked No. 42, a 13-spot drop from its 2018 position of No. 29. Shipyard ranked No. 37 in 2017, a drop from its No. 28 spot in 2016.
Brew Theory, which Roberts founded in 2018 after starting Orange County Brewers in 2017, can provide the Shipyard brand with 23,000 barrels of annual capacity. Shipyard currently sells about 8,000 barrels in Florida per year. Forsley said Shipyard’s sales have dipped some after a wholesaler change led to the brand receiving less attention. But Brew Theory brings a three-person external sales team that can dedicate time to the brand, and Roberts and Fred and Bruce Forsley have created a sales strategy for the brands in Florida.
“Right out of the gate, it fills a lot of space for us,” Roberts said of the licensing agreement. “I think with a licensing deal, it enables me and my team to help build the brand like Fred and Bruce talked about.
“I think Shipyard has a lot of juice left in the tank,” he continued. “And I think we can help really grow the brand, so I’m excited about it. So is my team.”
Due to the craft beer industry’s growth over the past decade, and the proliferation of breweries with talented brewers and high-quality equipment, Fred Forsley said he is open to taking on additional contract brewing and licensing partners in other states, should the Florida arrangement prove successful. Ideal partners would have “passion and want to have an additional brand that they can focus on,” he said.
Unlike traditional contract brewing agreements, “they would have more control and ownership of [the brand], and we may try to do that in some states where we haven’t been strong, maybe the Carolinas,” Fred Forsley said.
Shipyard’s sister brand Sea Dog operates three brewpubs in Florida — Clearwater, Gulfport and Treasure Island — which the company will retain, but Brew Theory will supply with beer.
“The production in Orlando saves us dramatically on freight, improves our freshness, can help supply the pubs, and still the marketing team up in Portland and the chain sales team will be there to support their organization,” Bruce Forsley said. “So, it’ll definitely be a collaborative effort.”
Both Shipyard and Sea Dog have launched brand extensions in the beyond beer space. Shipyard partnered with Chicago-based herbal tea company Tiesta Tea to launch a line of flavored “tea brews” in March 2019, and Sea Dog debuted a hard seltzer line two weeks ago. Brew Theory will produce both products for the Florida market, Roberts said.
Sea Dog Hard Seltzer comes in three flavors — wild blueberry, juicy raspberry and black cherry — and is 5% ABV and 100 calories. It has zero grams of sugar, which sets it apart from the segment leaders Mark Anthony Brands’ White Claw and Boston Beer’s Truly Hard Seltzer, Bruce Forsley said.
“If you compare Sea Dog Hard Seltzer up against a Truly or White Claw, you will definitely perceive much more sweetness,” he said.
The product is available in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Florida. Sea Dog’s fruited beer portfolio made it the logical brand to extend to seltzers.
“Sea Dog I think — in my opinion, humble as it may be — has a national reputation as a leader in the fruit beer category,” Bruce Forsley said. “It seemed to us to be a natural extension to go into seltzers, which are fruit-based.”
Watch the below video for a discussion with Fred Forsley, Bruce Forsley and Jeremy Roberts about the licensing agreement and the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on Shipyard and Sea Dog, which operates nearly 20 brewpubs.