This month, the two craft-brewing industry trade organizations of the greatest importance to local breweries—national entity, the Brewers Association, and the San Diego Brewers Guild—have unveiled initiatives seeking to assist consumers in identifying products from authentically independent brewing companies. It started with the latter introducing decals that can be placed on the exterior of member organizations (all of which meet the SDBG’s independence standards). That was followed this week by the BA rolling out a seal of independence that qualifying breweries can feature on their beer-packaging at retail.
Both organizations share the same motivation. With macro-beer producers’ long-standing practice of creating faux craft brands, and the more recent phenomenon of those conglomerates purchasing craft breweries, in part or in whole, and using misleading and often times false information via advertising campaigns and product labeling to disguise their non-craft products, it has become essential for authentically independent operations to help educate consumers that they are, indeed, the real thing, as opposed to the likes of AB InBev-, MillerCoors– and Constellation Brands-owned interests.
In the words of the Brewers Association: When it comes to the origins of food and beverages, there is increasing public interest in transparency. Beer lovers are no exception. As Big Beer acquires former craft brands, beer drinkers have become increasingly confused about which brewers remain independent. They want to know who makes their beer. With the launch of [the BA’s independence] seal, the BA is making it easy to identify which beer is made by independent craft brewers.
The BA’s seal features an upturned beer bottle (signifying the manner in which craft brewers have turned the industry upside-down over the past several decades) and the words “Brewers Association Certified Independent Craft”. To be able to use the seal, companies must meet the BA’s criteria, which includes: annual production of six million barrels or less and being less than 25% owned or controlled by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. In addition to bottles, cans, six-pack holders, case-boxes and other packaging, the seal can also be used at places of business and on marketing materials.
In San Diego County, the SDBG’s decals read “Proud Member San Diego Brewers Guild” and note the current calendar year. In addition to the decals, the SDBG is also creating flags and tap-handle danglers for use at tasting rooms and on-premise accounts. These are key components of the organization’s Conscious Consumer Campaign.
Today, the Brewers Association released its annual set of lists of Top 50 Breweries from the last calendar year. The rankings are based on beer sales volume, and broken into two lists—Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies and Top 50 Overall U.S. Brewing Companies. The latter includes the likes of Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors as well as former craft-brewing interests that no longer qualify as craft breweries under the BA’s definition, such as Lagunitas Brewing Co. and locally based concern Ballast Point Brewing.
The Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies list includes three San Diego County businesses—the same ones that have graced the list for the past several years. Escondido’s Stone Brewing is the highest ranked at #9 (they are listed at #17 on the Overall U.S. Brewing Companies list), with Green Flash Brewing Co. rising four spots from the year prior to #37 (#46 on the Overall list) and Karl Stauss Brewing Co. ascending five spots to take its place at #41.
D.G. Yeungling & Son, Inc. retained the top spot on the Craft Brewing Companies list, followed (in order) by Boston Beer Co., Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., New Belgium Brewing Co., Gambrinus, Duvel Moortgat USA, Bell’s Brewery, Deschutes Brewery, Stone and Oskar Blues. The top 10 for the Overall list was as follows: Anheuser-Busch, Inc.; MillerCoors; Pabst Brewing Co.; D.G. Yuengling & Son, Inc.; North American Breweries; Boston Beer Co.; Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.; New Belgium Brewing Co.; Lagunitas and Craft Brew Alliance. Ballast Point registered at #13.
It’s been the talk of the Internet for days, but for me, it started a month ago when a trusted source in Northern California informed me that sales reps from a certain Big Beer company were crowing about how psyched they were about the impending acquisition of an undisclosed “San Diego craft brewery.” Like many who have since heard this recent rumor, I started considering which of the county’s brewing companies would be the first to sell-out to the big guys. And like many, my short-list was headed by Saint Archer Brewery. There were other potential sellers, but if ever there were a significantly sized San Diego brewery built to be sold and primed to cash in, it was this one.
In the two-plus years since Saint Archer debuted, the company has often courted controversy. Within its first several months of existence, it jettisoned one of the county’s veteran salespeople and cut ties with brewmaster Ray Astamendi, an industry trouper who has since gone on to wow local beer fans at his own operation, Fall Brewing Co., while rising to stud status as a brewhouse consultant for Premier Stainless. Upon doing so, they proceeded to hire away Pizza Port standout brewer Yiga Miyashiro to revive credibility. Thanks to he and brewmaster Kim Lutz, Saint Archer’s reputation improved, though the majority of beer nerd die-hards never bought into a marketing campaign nearly devoid of beer (mostly skateboards, beachscapes, lifestyle pics and shots of alt-sports athletes), especially when the company went against its “brewed in San Diego” branding, angering many San Diegans with a post professing the company’s affections for Dodger Stadium, while subsequently trashing Petco Park and engaging in insulting back-and-forth messages with dissenting social media users. The company released an apology about a month later, in May.
Many will not be surprised to learn that London-headquartered MillerCoors announced it will acquire a majority-share of Saint Archer. (After being denied when asked directly more than a month prior). Macrobreweries purchasing or acquiring majority shares in legitimate craft brewing companies to increase sales and market share while simultaneously chipping away at its competitor base is nothing new. It’s been occurring for some time and ramping up over the past few years with acquisitions of companies like Elysian Brewing Co., 10 Barrel Brewing Co., Goose Island Beer and, most recently, Lagunitas. This, however, is the first time this has occurred in San Diego County.
Most within the craft beer industry and its growing legions of fans concede that it was only a matter of time before a local interest sold out. San Diego is a market with a stellar reputation for the manufacture of artisan ales and lagers, as well as a population that consumes a great deal of craft beer. There was much to be gained by purchasing a willing San Diego craft brewery, including an instant foothold in the local and national industry. Many are the drinkers who don’t know or don’t care who owns or controls a brewery, providing the opportunity for MillerCoors to build off of the Saint Archer brand and San Diego’s good name immediately.
Of course, it’s within any business’ right to sell to anyone. That’s their prerogative, but that’s not the problem. Big Beer actively pushes legislation meant to hurt the small guys, as we’ve seen in Florida. Big Beer also controls many of the distribution channels in the United States, so expect to see more Saint Archer at the Coors-focused bars.
Many local, long-tenured breweries I’ve spoken to are not happy Big Beer is now in their backyard. Some of them claim they would never sell, most vocally (my employer) Stone Brewing Co., the owners of which have guaranteed that to their employee base on multiple occasions. These are breweries whose beers won the awards and hearts of beer drinkers the world over, laying the foundation for San Diego County’s reputation as an epicenter for craft beer innovation and quality. The same reputation that Saint Archer leveraged to look attractive to MillerCoors. The same reputation MillerCoors hopes to leverage to look attractive to consumers. Many are worried Big Beer’s presence will taint that reputation. Only time will tell in this latest “first” for San Diego’s brewing industry.
A press release with additional information is below.
SAN DIEGO and CHICAGO – Tenth and Blake, the craft and import division of MillerCoors, announced today an agreement to acquire a majority interest in Saint Archer Brewing Company.
Founded in San Diego in 2013 by a talented group of entrepreneurs, artists, skateboarders and surfers, Saint Archer brews an award-winning range of ales including Blonde Ale, IPA, White Ale and Pale Ale. Saint Archer expects to sell 35,000 barrels of beer in 2015, up more than 100 percent over 2014, making it one of the fastest-growing breweries in California. Tenth and Blake plans to support its continued growth under the ongoing leadership of Josh Landan, Saint Archer co-founder and president.
“We have always wanted to get great beer into more people’s hands,” said Landan. “We were fortunate that brewers big and small were interested in partnering with us, but Tenth and Blake was the clear choice. Tenth and Blake shares our passion for putting great beer first. Joining Tenth and Blake allows us to keep doing what we love right here in San Diego, but now with more resources to innovate and grow. With Tenth and Blake’s help, we hope to one day be a national brand.”
Saint Archer’s management and their team will continue to brew, package, ship, and sell Saint Archer’s outstanding portfolio of high-quality brands. Saint Archer will be run as a separate business unit of Tenth and Blake.
“We’re really excited about our partnership with Saint Archer,” said Scott Whitley, president and CEO of Tenth and Blake. “Saint Archer is consistent with our strategy of building our high-end portfolio while driving topline growth. Josh and his team represent everything we look for in a partner. Saint Archer brews award-winning ales across a variety of styles that are complementary to our current portfolio—including some outstanding IPAs. We’re excited at the prospect of working together to support the continued success of Saint Archer.”
Saint Archer picked up two gold medals at the 2014 San Diego International Beer Festival and a gold medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival.
Saint Archer joins other leading crafts in the Tenth and Blake portfolio, including Blue Moon Brewing Company, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company, Crispin Cider Company and a minority equity stake in Terrapin Beer Company.
The transaction is expected to complete in October 2015. The terms of the transaction were not disclosed.
About Saint Archer Brewing Company:
Saint Archer Brewing Company was founded on a unique strain of creative talent: World-class brewers, Artists and Musicians, Surfers, Skateboarders and Snowboarders; all coming together with passion and commitment to express our collective true love – handcrafted beer. Saint Archer has been a long time in the tank and we hope you taste our appreciation and gratitude in every sip.www.saintarcherbrewery.com
About Tenth and Blake Beer Company:
Tenth and Blake is the craft and import division of MillerCoors. The Tenth and Blake family includes Blue Moon Brewing Co. at the SandLot in Denver, Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co. in Chippewa Falls, Wis., 10th Street Brewery in Milwaukee, Crispin Cider Company in Colfax, Calif., AC Golden in Golden, Colorado, Birra Peroni in Rome, Plzeňský Prazdroj (Pilsner Urquell) in Pilsen, Czech Republic, and a minority equity stake in Terrapin Beer Co. Tenth and Blake beers and ciders include Blue Moon Belgian White, Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy, Crispin Original, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, Pilsner Urquell, George Killian’s Irish Red, Colorado Native and Grolsch. You can find out more at www.Facebook.com/TenthAndBlake.