Getting in Shape for Takeover

Reading tea leaves in a cup.

Without insider intelligence it’s impossible to say with any certainty whether a brewery is about to be taken over by a larger national or multi-national but we reckon there are a few things to look out for.

First comes a shift from purism to pragmatism. Smallness, independence and provenance, once both sacred values and selling points, get dropped.

There might be surprising partnerships with ‘evil’ companies; there may be contracts to supply supermarkets; or plans to have beer produced under contract, with more or less transparency.

This kind of thing usually comes with a rush of blurb explaining how, actually, this way is even crafter because it widens access to the product, challenges the status quo, and so on, and so forth. But what it also happens to do is send a signal like animal hormones in mating season: we’ve grown up now; we understand how it works in the real world; we’re people you can do business with.

The tying off of loose ends is another thing to watch out for, e.g. the sudden settling of legal disputes, which few potential buyers will want to acquire as part of any bundle. Camden settled their dispute with Redwell over the trademark for Hells, for example, at around the time of its takeover by AB-InBev. (We understand that reporting of this news came much later than the settlement itself, though it’s possible we’ve got the wrong end of the stick.)

Along the same lines, one might read something into the winding up of fun but marginal parts of the business.

The emergence of a dominant beer in the portfolio might be the biggest red flag of all. (Or green, depending on your point of view.) Big multinational firms are drawn to lagers, pale ales, wheat beers and increasingly, we’ve observed, session IPAs. These are products with mainstream appeal, that people can and will drink for an entire session or buy by the six-pack, and which fill a gap in their portfolios of Craft Brands. If they’re already in supermarkets and chain pubs (see above) all the better.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying that, thinking back on the trajectories of Meantime, Sharp’s, Camden and others, we’d put money on Beavertown being bought up before too long.

Of course Beavertown says this:

Twitter conversation: a takeover is not going to happen, says Beavertown.

But that doesn’t change our gut instincts. After all, the one indicator of an impending takeover you can guarantee you’ll never get is any explicit announcement of intent before a deal has been finalised.

15 thoughts on “Getting in Shape for Takeover”

  1. You never know a takeover is official until the self styled Godfather of craft James Watt declares on Twitter that Brewdog will no longer be stocking that brewery’s beers.

    1. How many of those boxes do Brewdog tick? They must have had a few offers for the business by now.

        1. Yeah but that’s not selling out because James says so. He’s all punk and stuff.

  2. Why would Mr. Beaver sell up? I doubt he is short of a few bob. He used to be in a band, & owning a brewery has so many parallels with being in a band, but the best bit is you get payed & stay in hotels at fests instead of sleeping on promoters floors. Living the dream he is. Why sell out ??

  3. Blimey, haven’t you deleted this yet? You’ve upset the Beaverati. 😉

    I think your instincts are spot on; seems to me thay every move they have made for the last couple of years is entirely consistent with that reading.

  4. I thought the litmus test was: attend Craft Beer Rising with branding that’s better than your beer.

  5. Beavertown already has a deal with Spendrups in Sweden to import Beavertown beer there. Spendrups is a brewer with a long history of brewing bland lager and now have a couple of their own “crafty” brands that are generally bland ales.

  6. When a brewery appears to care more about brand popularity and availability over quality, while selling a large core line of ‘sessionable’ beers AND when they’re pretty much at capacity in their current location, then yes, this seems to make the prospect more likely.

    A ever increasing number of breweries tick these boxes… including, Beavertown. However, while incredibly popular with their fans, I’m not sure that the branding mars with national chains as well as others; so I cannot really see this one happening..

    Ultimately it’ll boil down to who owns the business & the price offered, assuming that available market research is accurate and reliable…

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