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Lagunitas Is Now Half Owned By Heineken, Will Go Global

A “historic opportunity to export the excitement and vibe of American-born Craft Brewing and meet beer-lovers all over the Planet Earth, our true homeland.”

Blue Moon is owned by MillerCoors, and AB InBev now owns Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel, and Elysian. And on Tuesday, Amsterdam-based Heineken announced it has acquired a 50% stake in California craft brewer Lagunitas.

It's the latest deal in the global mainstreaming of America's craft beer industry, whose brewers have traditionally identified themselves as independent alternatives to the global beer giants. Heineken is the world's third largest brewer, and said it intends to take Lagunitas global.

The Dutch company — which also owns brands including Foster's, Tecate, Tiger and Newcastle Brown Ale — has a vast international distribution network, and said in a press release that it will use Laguanitas to "build a strong foothold in the dynamic craft brewing category on a global scale."

Tony Magee, the Lagunitas founder, said the Heineken deal "represents a profound victory for American craft." The company will focus first on expanding into the Mexican market, reported the Press Democrat.

In a lengthy and colorful reflection on the deal, posted to Tumblr, Magee compared his search for a partner to globalize Lagunitas to Nietzsche's The Parable of the Madman, where a man attempts to argue with the denizens of a town square but is met with silence. (The parable is best known for Nietzsche's famous statement, made by the madman, that "God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.")

"When we, the Madman in the Parable, came into the square with our lantern, holding up the light of our ideas, we were stunned to see that that one particular brewer understood what we were talking about," he said. "They saw what we saw — a global beer business in a state of change, and they wanted to work together to explore this brave new world."

Magee seems to be having plenty of fun in announcing the deal. The Lagunitas press release is datelined "PETAFUKINLUMA, Calif," and says Heineken will take the craft beer to growing markets around the world, "from Tierra Del Fuego and Mongolia to the far-flung Isle of Langerhans." The islets of Langerhans are regions of the pancreas containing hormone-producing cells; a Heineken spokesperson said: "I think we should see this as flowery comment. We are not giving specific detail yet on which countries the brand will go to."

Lagunitas expects to sell about a million hectoliters (26.4 million gallons) of beer in 2015, Heineken said, and its revenues grew by 58% per year between 2012 and 2014. Craft beer now makes up about 11% of the U.S. beer market, and while craft beer sales grew by 17.6% in 2014, the overall beer market grew just 0.5%, reported the Press Democrat.

Lagunitas is the fifth largest craft brewer in the U.S. by volume, and is best known for Lagunitas IPA, which Heineken says is now the largest IPA brand in the country. The company has breweries in Petaluma, California, and Chicago, with a third brewery under construction in Azusa, California, expected to open in 2017.

"We believe that with their insights into what makes a great craft brand and our expertise in building a global business we can achieve great things together," said Heineken spokeswoman Christine van Waveren in an email.

When the deal is completed, Lagunitas will continue to operate as an independent entity and will still be led by Magee and its existing management team, the companies said.