Wicked Weed Founders, High End President Discuss Acquisition

Anheuser-Busch InBev significantly bolstered its High End division’s craft and import portfolio today when it announced plans to purchase one of the most acclaimed producers of sour, barrel-aged and hoppy beers in the U.S. — North Carolina’s Wicked Weed Brewing.

In the five years since it launched from a small brewpub in downtown Asheville, Wicked Weed has claimed numerous World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival medals, scaled production to roughly 20,000 barrels, built three additional brewing facilities spanning a cumulative 150,000 sq. ft., grown to 210 employees and expanded distribution into 10 states and Washington D.C.

Current plans call for about 40,000 barrels of output in 2017 as the company nears completion on a 30,000 sq. ft. addition at its 50-barrel production facility in West Asheville.

But it wasn’t Wicked Weed’s aggressive growth plans, its brewing assets, its accolades or even its Asheville headquarters – where prominent craft breweries like Sierra Nevada and New Belgium have recently built massive secondary facilities — that caught the attention of Felipe Szpigel, the president of A-B’s High End.

“What makes them really special, and what got me really excited, is that they are reinventing what craft beer can be,” he told Brewbound, noting that Wicked Weed’s positioning as a sour and barrel-aged beer producer would give A-B a key weapon in its fight to take share back from wine and spirits makers.

Wicked Weed partner and co-founder Walt Dickinson echoed Szpigel, saying that the brewery hopes to “break down the walls between wine, spirits and beer.”

A deal with A-B will enable Wicked Weed to access a nationwide distribution network, give its brewers a greater ability to source raw ingredients and allow the company to tap into the collective knowledge of nine other craft brewery partners already part of the High End Division.

“I don’t think any of us were thinking bigger than a brewpub when we started,” Dickinson said, referring to Wicked Weed’s four other partners, Luke Dickinson and Ryan, Rick and Denise Guthy.

“As we evolved from being pub brewers to having a sour program and packaging IPAs, we knew that the next steps were going to be big steps for us,” he added. “We are not naïve. We recognize this is a business. About a year ago, we thought maybe there was potential that a partnership could be the future for us.”

The founders said they weren’t actively looking to sell the business. After all, access to capital wasn’t a hurdle; much of the company’s funding came from Rick and Denise Guthy, who were involved in the multi-billion dollar Guthy-Renker enterprise known for marketing the Proactiv line of beauty products.

“I know there are a lot of people who are not going to understand this decision,” Walt Dickinson added. “We chose this partner because they want to support the vision that is Wicked Weed and our future.”

Specific financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed and the deal is still subject to regulatory approval.

In the short term, Szpigel said there were no immediate plans to realign Wicked Weed’s current distribution footprint in places like North Carolina (Mims Distributing) Colorado (Elite Brands) and Massachusetts (Atlantic Distributing), all non-A-B affiliated wholesalers.

“My job is to provide the right portfolio for our equity wholesalers,” he said. “Whenever we go into any new marketplace, the preference will be to align the brand with the equity wholesalers.”

Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth, P.C. acted as an advisor to Wicked Weed.

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