David Bowie. Merle Haggard. Prince. All gone, along with many more. Big changes in 2016 for all of us. These changes were not limited to movie and rockstars though, the craft beer industry was affected as well. Though not all inclusive, the following are some of the upheavals with craft beer that surprised many in 2016 and surprised none at the same time.
Stone Brewing. Topping the list is the hoppy favorite out of Escondido, California that saw multiple changes, beginning with the departure of longtime employee Jason Armstrong in April. Armstrong had been with Stone since 2008, working his way up from handling sales for Texas and New Mexico to eventually serving as National Sales Director. Armstrong was also instrumental in establishing Stone’s new Virginia brewery and making it operational. The longing for Texas was too much though and Armstrong left Stone to return to Texas. After a brief stint with Buffalo Bayou Brewing in Houston, Armstrong recently joined the Ska Brewing team as its Texas sales representative, keeping Armstrong in Houston.
Not long after Armstrong left Stone, longtime Stone brewmaster Mitch Steele announced his departure from Stone as well. The legendary brewmaster had been with Stone since 2006 and was behind such fan favorites as Sublimely Self-Righteous and the Enjoy-By double IPA series. Steele had previously been with Anheuser-Busch prior to his time with Stone. Steele is the author of the most comprehensive book on the IPA style “IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale” and leaves Stone to start the life long dream of opening his own brewpub in Atlanta, Georgia.
Not to be left out, Bill Sysak, affectionately know as ‘Dr. Bill’ in the industry, announced in October that he too was leaving Stone to start his own place, Wild Barrel Brewing Company. Sysak, who had been at Stone over seven years, is widely regarded as one of the preeminent experts on beer and has been featured in publications around the country.
To round out these changes, Stone Brewing announced in October that it was letting go upwards of 75 people from its Escondido, California brewery. Many were shocked by this development and felt Stone was becoming no better than global beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB-InBev). The move was not really surprising considering Stone had sold equity shares in the brewery and opened new breweries in Berlin, Germany and Richmond, Virginia. The savings had to come from somewhere.
Surly Brewing. October proved it was the month for announcements. Long time Surly Brewing brewmaster Todd Haug announced he was leaving Surly, a brewery he built with with its owner for the last ten years. Haug was behind many favorites such as Darkness and Furious. Hang and his wife Linda, who was also a Surly employee overseeing its restaurant, joined Indiana’s Three Floyds Brewing reprising their roles from Surly.
Miller/Coors. Amid its own deal with AB-InBev, the joint venture owned by MolsonCoors of Canada and SABMiller of South Africa purchased Granbury, Texas based Revolver Brewing Company, adding it to its Tenth and Blake craft beer portfolio.
Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB-InBev). Perhaps the biggest shake ups in 2016 beer world were the multiple buyouts of craft breweries perpetuated by the world’s largest brewer: AB-InBev. Already controlling many of the beers the world enjoys, the Belgian-based brewing conglomerate has in recent years been buying up well-known craft beer brands, such as Chicago’s Goose Island in 2011 and placing them within their craft beer portfolio known as The High End. This year, AB-InBev acquired Virginia based Devil’s Backbone and Houston based Karbach Brewing. As an award winning brewery opening in 2008, Devil’s Backbone is best known for its Vienna Style Lager and Eight Point IPA. Karbach Brewing opened in 2011 with a 15 bbl brewhouse then expanded quickly to a 120 bbl brewhouse in 2015.
Not content with owning just the end product, AB purchased Northern Brewer, one of the country’s largest homebrewing supply shops, as well as Midwest Brewing Supplies which was acquired by Northern Brewer a few years ago.
The pièce de résistance for AB-InBev was its acquisition of rival SABMiller. In a deal that came in around $100 million, the Belgian brewer became owner of around 30% of the overall global beer market. Although final details are still pending as to the final form, what is clear is that AB will have to divest some of its brands, as well as several distributorships in the U.S., in order to retain the Department of Justice’s seal of approval.
What a year!