As alcohol beverage producers across the U.S. increase their focus on the health and wellness space, one of the country’s most established craft beer companies is buying in.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, ranked by industry trade group the Brewers Association as the third largest U.S. craft brewery, today announced the purchase of San Francisco-based Sufferfest Beer Company. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, and the transaction is expected to close in early April.
The 100 percent acquisition is a first for the Chico, California-headquartered brewery, and it comes at a time when beer makers large and small are looking to capture the attention of health-conscious consumers who count calories and scrutinize ingredients labels with products such as hard kombucha and non-alcoholic beer.
“They see the opportunity,” Sufferfest founder Caitlin Landesberg told Brewbound. “Enlisting a creative agency to develop an athletic beer or brand for them wouldn’t be part of their DNA.”
Sufferfest — a term used to describe an extended endurance endeavor, such as a race or a hard workout — launched in mid-2016 as a woman-owned, self-distributed “functional” beer brand.
Its products, which are marketed toward athletes, are gluten-reduced and made with ingredients such as bee pollen and sodium. Many of Sufferfest’s beer names — like Shakeout Blonde Ale and Taper IPA — draw inspiration from the running world.
Toward the end of 2018, Sufferfest began shifting away from a self-distribution model and expanding into new markets (its products are currently sold in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington).
Around the same time, Landesberg met Sierra Nevada CEO Jeff White at First Beverage Group’s BlueBox conference. They got to chatting about their companies’ respective core values and the emerging trend toward “better-for-you” beers when the idea of a partnership emerged. “It turns out we were aligned in a lot of ways,” White told Brewbound.
Indeed, both companies are independently owned, socially, and environmentally conscious, and focused on innovation. “It was kind of like looking in the mirror,” White said. “They’re hard-working, and we’re sort of an outdoors company, and they’re certainly an active company, so that stuff all felt right.”
According to White, Sierra Nevada will provide Sufferfest with additional sales and marketing resources in addition to production capabilities that will help “accelerate” its growth. “We can put some more muscles on what they’re already doing and doing really well,” he said. Currently, Sufferfest produces its offerings at the Sleeping Giant Brewing Company in Denver. However, White said the company plans to eventually transfer production to Sierra Nevada’s Chico brewery.
“Given the TTB shutdown and now backlog, it’s going to take a bit of time to unwind all of that,” White said. “But I would anticipate that down the road we’ll be making all of the Sufferfest beers.”
The two companies also share an overlapping distribution network, as Sufferfest began expanding into new markets and selecting wholesalers as conversations about a deal were evolving.
“Given that we were just turning on this new model, it made a lot of sense to be considerate about our selections as we were talking to Sierra,” Landesberg said.
“If we’re not absolutely perfectly aligned so far, there may be a county here or there that we’re not,” White added.
Sufferfest is the first brewery Sierra Nevada has ever acquired, and there are no plans in place to make M&A a part of the company’s strategy moving forward.
”It’s just another really genuine and authentic platform for us,” White said. “We can talk to more different drinkers, highly differentiated offerings, more different occasions.
“It’s a bit of a unicorn,” he added.
For her part, Landesberg said she was impressed with Sierra Nevada’s “ability to flex, act fast and be nimble,” for a company that makes more than a million barrels of beer annually.
Moving forward, Landesberg will report to White, however, her team of about 20 employees will continue to operate Sufferfest as its own entity.
“What they have seems to be working and we’ll continue to find ways for us to add strength and power to what they’re doing,” White said.
Sufferfest made about 3,000 barrels of beer last year, and both Landesberg and White expect growth to accelerate in 2019.
“Is it going to become a national brand? We’ll see,” White said. “We want to build this brand the right way. This isn’t a quest to blow something up very big. Sufferfest and this whole space is in its early stages and its infancy.”
A press release with additional details is included below.
Sufferfest Beer Company to join Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Sufferfest partnership marks first-ever acquisition for Sierra Nevada
Chico, Calif. — Sufferfest Beer Company of San Francisco, CA will join Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. of Chico, CA and Mills River, NC, the breweries announced on Monday. Sierra Nevada will acquire 100 percent of Sufferfest, which is the company’s first-ever acquisition. The breweries stated shared values, commitment to innovation, and common goals as the root of the partnership.
“While still in its infancy, Sufferfest is at the front of the wave of ‘functional’ alcoholic beverages,” said Sierra Nevada President and CEO Jeff White. “By joining with Sierra Nevada, Sufferfest will be better positioned to grow and continue to lead the way in a rapidly growing and highly competitive space.”
Sufferfest, which launched in 2016, is beloved by athletes for its gluten-removed line of beers like its 95-calorie Kolsch brewed with bee pollen and its FKT (Fastest Known Time) Pale Ale brewed with salt and black currant.
“The complementary nature of our offerings and their position at the cusp of this emerging category are not the only reasons Sufferfest made sense,” said White. “From the moment we met, it was clear that our two companies are deeply aligned in our values and our commitment to do the right thing.”
Sufferfest is a Certified B Corporation and a values-driven company. Founder and CEO Caitlin Landesberg, a long-distance trail runner, started the company with a vision to create the perfect post-sweat beer for herself and fellow sufferers.
“I’ve always craved a beer after a race, but when I couldn’t find a beer that agreed with my dietary and performance needs, it left a genuine void in the post-race social experience,” explained Landesberg. “The finish line is where we get to celebrate the ail, anguish, and suffering we’ve all been through together. I so wanted to continue to be part of this occasion, but didn’t want to keep compromising on taste or ingredients.”
A homebrewers course in 2012 followed by coursework at UC Davis enlightened her on the microbiology of beer and its many positive attributes. She started her quest to develop a beer by athletes, for athletes, and after years of improvements and sampling her beers among fellow runners, local heroes, and professional athletes, Sufferfest Beer Company was born.
“Sierra Nevada is the perfect fit,” explained Landesberg. “If it were any other company, this would not be a consideration for us. Sierra Nevada is a family-owned and operated business that isn’t driven by shareholder pressure to meet quarterly numbers,” she continued. “I’ve always been so impressed by their commitment to the communities they serve. They are really driven by their own north star.”
“Sufferfest represents an authentic and genuine platform for us to connect with more and different people,” said White. “This isn’t something cooked up by an ad agency. Sufferfest is a group of tireless, deeply committed people who love to have fun. In other words, they feel like us.”
About Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Founded in 1980, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. is one of America’s premier craft breweries, highly regarded for using only the finest quality ingredients. The pioneering spirit that launched Sierra Nevada now spans both coasts with breweries in Chico, California and Mills River, North Carolina. Sierra Nevada has set the standard for craft brewers worldwide with innovations in the brewhouse as well as advances in sustainability. It is famous for its extensive line of beers including Pale Ale, Hazy Little ThingTM, Torpedo®, Tropical Torpedo®, Hop Hunter® IPA, Nooner® Pilsner, Otra VezTM, Kellerweis®, Porter, Stout and a host of seasonal, specialty and limited release beers. Learn more at www.sierranevada.com.
Sufferfest Beer Company fuels active, healthy and passionate humans with premium quality beer. Born out of the needs of athletes and adventurers, we make award-winning functional beer for those who go the extra mile. We’re committed to serving delicious beer that delivers more benefits without settling on taste or quality. Sufferfest Beer Co. is a certified B Corporation because we’re dedicated to practicing environmental sustainability and positively impacting the communities in which we sweat, drink and celebrate. Whether you crushed it on the trails, had a big win at the office, flexed your weekend warrior, or shredded the gnar, you deserve our beer. From us to you: go hard, have fun, and enjoy the sufferfest. Learn more about why we sweat for our beer at www.sufferfestbeer.com.