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:
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.