Former attorney with Jackson Family Wines buying Anderson Valley Brewing
Anderson Valley Brewing Co. of Boonville, a California craft beer pioneer that’s been overshadowed in recent years as younger consumers moved toward more hoppy beers, is being sold to a Healdsburg home brewer’s family under a deal announced Wednesday.
The Mendocino County brewery founded in 1987 produces beers ranging from amber ales to an oatmeal stout, but like other craft brewers it faces challenges of lagging sales and increasing consolidation led by major national brewers such as Anheuser- Busch InBev and Molson Coors.
Kevin McGee, an attorney who once served as legal counsel to Jackson Family Wines under the late Jess Jackson, and his family are buying the brewery from Trey White. The price tag was not disclosed. The roughly 50 Anderson Valley employees will be retained, including brewmaster Fal Allen.
“They are one of the pioneers. ... The quality of the beers they have been making is world-class,” McGee said. “It’s about the idea that we can be part of the culture of the brewery and organization.”
The sale comes during a period of volatility in the craft beer market as growth has slowed. Mergers and acquisitions have ramped up, as well as brewery closures. For example, Constellation Brands Inc. said Tuesday it was unloading popular San Diego craft brewer Ballast Point Brewing Co. to a small Chicago- area brewer, Kings & Convicts, after paying a whopping $1 billion for it in 2015. Other venerable independent breweries such as Cloverdale’s Bear Republic Brewing Co. are reinventing themselves to get stronger footing in the highly competitive beer market.
There is relief in the craft beer sector that Anderson Valley’s buyer is a local family rather than a “big beer” corporation such as InBev, which owns close to two dozen craft beer brands, including its pending purchase of the Craft Brew Alliance of Portland, Oregon.
“We just see so many craft beer brands bought by big beer, and every one of those we’ve seen is a dimming of the light,” said Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Beer Association. “We see the beer quality go down across the board and a demise of creativity.”
Anderson Valley makes a wide range of beers, but is known among beer aficionados for its Boont Amber Ale, a copper- colored beer that features the sweetness of caramel flavors. However, amber beers have faded in popularity among beer drinkers in recent years. It also has had recent success with its gose-style brew, a sour unfiltered wheat beer popular during the summer. Most notably, the brewery is not known for India pale ales, the hoppy style that represents up to a third of craft beer sales and is a fixture at any taproom in California and beyond.
McGee said he intends to help raise the brewery’s visibility through more aggressive marketing — noting that Anderson Valley’s Hop Ottin’ IPA won a bronze medal in the 2000 World Beer Cup — and remind consumers of its rich heritage, especially younger consumers who may not be aware of its history.
“A lot of the focus is just telling the stories of the brewery and all the things we have done in the past,” McGee said.
But he was adamant on resisting the latest trendy beers just to boost sales, such as the hard seltzer trend that is the fastest growing segment in the alcohol beverage market.