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Former attorney with Jackson Family Wines buying Anderson Valley Brewing

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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.

“Anderson Valley will continue to innovate and try to do fun and interesting things,” the soon-to-be owner said. “We will never make a hard seltzer.”

After leaving Jackson Family Wines in 2012, McGee has worked as a consultant to various wineries and CEO for a winery investment firm. He also is known locally for his Healdsburg Beer Co., a passion project of his in which, since 2007, he has produced home-brewed small batch cask ales available at a few taprooms. McGee will give up his consulting work, but keep Healdsburg Beer.

“He’s just a really thoughtful, humble and very intelligent person who also has that scientist/ artist background,” McCormick said of McGee.

McCormick remembers McGee when he first started his side brewing project and strapped kegs to the front seat of his Subaru as he made his deliveries to local pubs.

In his new role, McGee will be president and chief executive officer of Anderson Valley and leave the brewing to Allen and his team. His father, Michael McGee Sr., will be the brewing company chairman.

The Boonville brewer has been among the 100 largest independent breweries in the United States, according to the national Brewers Association trade group, McGee said. Prior to the acquisition closing on Dec. 13, McGee said he couldn’t disclose the brewery’s production figures.

In a prepared statement, White said he found “the perfect steward to lead the company forward. Kevin’s combination of business acumen and passion for quality beer make him ideally suited for the role.”

White had acquired Anderson Valley in April 2010 and turned it into one of the first sizable craft breweries in the country that packaged some beers in aluminum cans — a trend that now has become ubiquitous in the beer sector as younger consumers have gravitated to cans over bottles. Now its brews are available in 33 states.

The brewery began as a small 10-barrel brewhouse in the lower level of its first brewpub, the former Buckhorn Saloon, opened by David Norfleet and Kim and Ken Allen. In 1996, construction started on the current Anderson Valley brewery and taproom complex on 26 acres at the corner of Highways 128 and 253. It features a bucolic beer garden with views of the Anderson Valley, as well as an 18-hole disc golf course in the town of about 1,000 residents.

Brian Hunt of Moonlight Brewing Co. consulted with the original owners when Anderson Valley Brewing started and said he is bullish on the brewery’s future with McGee at the helm. He commended its tradition and sourcing of its own well water to give the beers a distinctive taste.

“The beers have always been solid,” Hunt said. “I’m really delighted they got a new infusion of cash, ideas and energy.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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