Beer Man

Ten Colorado Breweries That Would Make Good Buyout Targets in 2019

Denver Beer Co. was built for success.
Denver Beer Co. was built for success. Denver Beer Co.
On April 2, Avery Brewing became the latest Colorado beer maker to be acquired by another company — part of a sweeping wave of buyouts, mergers and consolidations that have become more and more normal in the craft-beer industry. In this case, the buyer was Spanish Brewing giant Mahou San Miguel, which had already purchased 30 percent of the Boulder beer maker in late 2017, but now holds 70 percent.

Although the news was surprising, it certainly wasn't shocking. In 2015, and again in 2017, Westword published lists of ten Colorado breweries that would make good buyout targets. Since then, three of those breweries — Avery, Breckenridge Brewery and Fort Collins Brewery — have been sold. Two others, Tommyknocker Brewery and Tivoli Brewing, have undergone internal ownership shifts. And that means it’s time to update the list again, removing a few other candidates and adding new ones.

Critics have called our previous lists unfair speculation. Which is why it's important to note that this isn't a list of breweries that might want to sell; some of the owners would probably never consider it. Rather, it's a list of breweries that would make good targets for other companies or investors. This year's ten:

click to enlarge BOULDER BEER COMPANY
Boulder Beer Company

Boulder Beer Company

Boulder
Potential buyer: Whole Foods

Boulder Beer is one of Colorado’s iconic brands. Founded in 1979, it owns the 42nd liquor license issued after Prohibition and was the first craft brewery in Colorado. But for a couple of decades, the company, its real estate and its intellectual property have been controlled by Boulder restaurateur Frank Day, along with his companies, his family and his business partners — playing a sort of ownership round robin. (Day also founded the Rock Bottom and Old Chicago chains.) Recently, Day tried to align another one of his properties, the former Walnut Brewery, with Boulder Beer. It didn’t work out, and Boulder Beer is now actively looking for investors. The answer? Day should sell the brand to Whole Foods and keep the real estate so that he can continue brewing beer for the Amazon-backed grocer and run the kitchen side, too. Many big grocery chains have their own house beer brands, and there would be no more fitting house brand for the health-food leader than beers from the crunchiest town in America. To do it, Boulder Beer could pull back its distribution from every other account so that it could supply Whole Foods exclusively, nationwide. In the meantime, the history of the brand and its legend could live on.

click to enlarge Upslope could make a nice addition to Legacy's brewery portfolio. - COURTESY OF UPSLOPE BREWING COMPANY
Upslope could make a nice addition to Legacy's brewery portfolio.
Courtesy of Upslope Brewing Company

Upslope Brewing

Boulder
Potential buyer: Ninkasi/Legacy Breweries

From its beginning in 2008, Upslope has been one of the most brand-conscious breweries in Colorado, having built an outdoorsy image, a recognizable look and an easy-to-sell portfolio backed by cred-boosting smaller batches. Today, Upslope is one of the state’s twenty largest breweries, but it may need help competing as supermarket sales change the Colorado beer landscape and as it prepares to open a third location, an 8,500-square-foot brewpub in Boulder’s S’Park development. Who could it team up with? This month, Legacy Breweries, an investment group led by the former CEO of a major hop farm, bought Oregon’s famed Ninkasi Brewing with the idea of rolling up several independent breweries across the country in the same way that Oskar Blues has done. Upslope would make a nice target in Colorado.

click to enlarge The taps at Great Divide's original location. - JONATHAN SHIKES
The taps at Great Divide's original location.
Jonathan Shikes

Great Divide Brewing

Denver
Potential buyer: Duvel Moortgat

Like Ballast Point, Boulevard Beer and Goose Island — all of which were sold in the past few decades — Great Divide is a regional powerhouse with a strong identity and a well-known portfolio of beers. But it's also a little over-extended, having stopped after building just the first phase of a planned $38 million new brewing campus while suffering from sluggish sales. It's hard to imagine Great Divide looking to AB InBev, but it isn't beyond the realm of possibility that it would consider an offer from Duvel Moortgat Brewery, which owns Boulevard Brewing, Ommegang and Firestone Walker. That would allow Great Divide to continue to operate under its own power and to fully utilize the potential of its five-acre property. Although Great Divide was a little slow to adjust to a changing beer landscape, its has drastically updated its packaging and product mix in 2019, and is still one of the shiniest gems in Colorado.

Wynkoop Brewing has history to think of. - JONATHAN SHIKES
Wynkoop Brewing has history to think of.
Jonathan Shikes

Wynkoop Brewing

Denver
Potential buyer: Big Red F

Over the past seven years, the owners of the once-mighty Breckenridge-Wynkoop group have divested themselves of the majority of their holdings, including Breckenridge Brewery, which they sold to AB InBev in 2015. So it would make sense for them to eventually cash in on a piece of Denver history: Wynkoop Brewing, the state's oldest brewpub and the sudsy legacy of former governor John Hickenlooper. The best way to do this with the least amount of backlash? Sell to another homegrown restaurant and brewery group like Big Red F. The property would certainly fit into the portfolio of the company, which owns the Jax Fish House locations, Zolo, Centro, Lola, the West End Tavern and the Post Brewing outposts. The purchase would give Big Red F (which recently brewed a beer called Hickenlooper American Ale before putting a lid on it after protests from an anti-Hick activist group) an opportunity to expand both its brewing and chicken concepts, just two blocks from Coors Field.

click to enlarge Dry Dock's Michelle Reding and Kevin DeLange say they have no intention of the selling. - DRY DOCK BREWING
Dry Dock's Michelle Reding and Kevin DeLange say they have no intention of the selling.
Dry Dock Brewing

Dry Dock Brewing

Aurora
Potential buyer: Constellation Brands

As Dry Dock heads toward its fourteenth anniversary, the Aurora favorite is one of the oldest and most decorated of the new wave of taproom-only breweries in Colorado. In fact, over the past decade, it's won 24 medals at the Great American Beer Festival — more than any other Colorado beer maker during that time. Add in the fact that it focuses entirely on Colorado (Dry Dock doesn't distribute outside the state, even though it's one of the fifteen largest breweries in Colorado) yet still has a national following, and the company makes for a delicious target. Although Dry Dock owners Kevin DeLange and Michelle Reding have said they don’t plan to sell, the company is certainly ripe for the picking.


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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes