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:
Boulder Beer CompanyBoulder
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.
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.
Great Divide BrewingDenver
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.
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.
Dry Dock BrewingAurora
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.
Crazy Mountain BrewingDenver
Potential buyer: Private equity firm
Founded in 2010, Crazy Mountain grew very quickly from its original brewery in the Vail Valley. It expanded, increased distribution to twenty states and five countries, and then took over the Kalamath Street former headquarters of Breckenridge Brewery, which moved to Littleton in 2015; two former World of Beer locations in Belmar and Glendale were also rebranded by franchise holders as Crazy Mountain bars. But the pace of change appears to have been unsustainably frenetic: Crazy Mountain's various landlords forced the brewery out of its spots in Edwards and Winter Park; the World of Beer/Crazy Mountain spot in Glendale dried up, and the one in Belmar will soon have to rebrand again when the franchise agreement is up. Right now, Crazy Mountain is only operating its production facility and tap room on Kalamath Street. At this point, the brewery is likely to need some new equity to help stabilize the business and pump some money into an operation that has a lot to build on.
Denver Beer Co.Denver
Potential buyer: Anyone
From the very beginning, Denver Beer Co. was built for success: It has a recognizable name, a savvy marketing team, a taproom with one of the best locations in Denver, a second in growing Arvada, a popular offshoot brand and taproom called Cerveceria Colorado and a production facility where it cans a strong lineup of core and seasonal brews. As a result, the company would make a nice target for just about any entity, from a major corporation to an overseas venture to a private equity firm, or even another brewery or restaurant group. Denver Beer Co. is likely to have its dance card filled; whether it decides to dance is another story.
Potential buyer: Cannabiniers
It was just eighteen months ago that a small private equity firm in Arizona bought a significant stake in Renegade Brewing — a move that was designed to turn Renegade into a bigger player in the retail market. But things happen very quickly in craft beer, and Renegade got stuck between business models. In addition to its original taproom, the company owns an expensive production facility. But operating that plant doesn’t make much sense anymore, and Renegade put it up for sale. It also announced its intention to open a string of taprooms. Neither of those plans has yet materialized, though, and the brewing world is changing once again. Cannabis companies are moving in, buying or starting breweries where they can make non-alcoholic beer and then infuse it with THC. California’s Cannabiniers, which already does this in San Diego, recently bought Dad & Dudes Breweria in Aurora with the goal of taking its CBD beer big. But Dad & Dudes has no capacity, so Renegade’s packaging facility might make sense. Furthermore, Dad & Dudes could use a Denver presence if it wants to get its name out there more.
Potential buyer: Brooklyn Brewery
This one’s not much of a stretch. In July 2017, Brooklyn Brewery, the nation’s twelfth-largest craft brewery, bought an undisclosed minority ownership stake in both 21st Amendment Brewery in San Francisco and Funkwerks. The three breweries wanted to team up and use their combined portfolios and power to better compete in a crowded marketplace. Since then, Funkwerks has expanded into thirteen states and begun brewing some of its beers at Brooklyn’s manufacturing space on the East Coast. But bigger companies rarely buy into smaller ones just for a slice; they're usually interested in the whole pie (see Avery, above), which is why Brooklyn may end up with the rest of Funkwerks at some point and grow it into a national brand.
Potential buyer: Another Colorado brewery
Boulder is Colorado’s original craft-beer town, but because of its zoning rules, wannabe breweries haven’t been able to find many places where they can open. That’s what makes Sanitas, with its stellar patio and abundance of space, such a plum. While the brewery appears to be doing fine, it hasn’t yet gained mass appeal and has been contract-brewing for other companies to help pay for all that capacity. As a result, it would make a great target for another Colorado brewery with a big name and bigger packaging plans — as well as the desire for a sweet Boulder location.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.