Yet another regional brewery that began as an alternative to mass-produced, corporate-owned beer has now joined the ranks of mega-sudsmakers.
On Monday, the Portland owner of Redhook Brewing – an iconic Seattle beer producer who helped make the craft brewing movement nearly 40 years ago – agreed to be bought out by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the global beer behemoth known for mass-produced brands that Budweiser.
Under the Anheuser-Busch InBev agreement, or AB-InBev, based in the Netherlands, it will pay around $ 220 million for shares it does not already own in the Craft Brew Alliance, formed in 2008 when Redhook merged with Widmer Brothers Brewing of Portland.
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Redbook was founded in 1981 in an old Ballard transmission shop by Gordon Bowker and Paul Shipman with the goal of "brewing Seattle a better beer," according to the Red Hook Brewery website. The beer, first sold at Jake O'Shaughnessys in Queen Anne in 1982, was both celebrated and mocked for a banana-like sweetness.
But it sold. Coming just as the US craft brewing movement was gaining momentum (in 1982, the first major US beer festival in Boulder, Colorado, drew only 20 breweries and 35 beers). Redhook saw steady growth and a series of ever-expanding facilities and tasting rooms, most recently Redhook Brewlab in the Pike Motorworks Building on Capitol Hill.
However, as Seattle writer and beer champion Eric Scigliano has noted on these pages, Redhook's growth brought tensions with the beginnings of the craft.
In 1994, the brewery sold a quarter of itself to what was then Anheuser-Busch with a view to getting wider distribution.
According to Scigliano, Shipman later came to raid sales: "I did not understand the consequences for the brand, or for the relationship with consumers and distributors," he said.
The sale also had consequences for the brewery's home image. According to the Brewers Association, a trade group for independent breweries, the term "craft" cannot be used in a brewery where an industrial brewery has a 25 percent or greater stake.
But Redhook's new business identity would only be more pronounced.
In 2008, Redhook merged with Widmer, another AB partner, and the combination continued to acquire Kona Brewing in 2010. In 2017, Craft Brew closed Woodinville Brewery, where Redhook had operated since 1994, and moved to Widmer's lot larger facilities in Portland. (The Woodinville website was sold in late 2017.)
Monday's sale to AB-InBev was not a surprise. In 2016, AB-InBev was given a complicated alternative to buy the rest of Craft Brew at a later date. In the years since, both companies have had incentives to merge as beer sales have fallen under competition from alternatives such as White Claw.
The fortunes of the Craft Brew Alliance had been particularly flat: Since July, the stock price has fallen by more than 50 percent and stood at $ 7.33 at Monday's end before the merger was announced – a sweet deal for AB-InBev, after all judge.
Whether beer drinkers think it's sweet is another question.
At Redhook Brewlab Monday night, workers withheld the verdict until they heard more details about the deal.
Ryan Ewnig, clerk at the Brewlab restaurant, said he understood the concerns of Redhook's small-scale craft image. On the other hand, he said, getting such a great business parent could give Redhook more opportunity to experiment with new beers.
"It is easier for a larger business with more funding to experiment and squeeze in places that are not as well-documented or proven to sell," Ewing said. The sale "may mean more restraint, but it also has the opportunity to give them more freedom. ”