The Ceja family has sold its Carneros Brewing Co. to Hanson Spirits, operated by another North Bay family making its own mark in the distilling sector.
Under the deal, Hanson Spirits acquired the Carneros taproom and brewing facility just off Highway 12, located right next to its distillery. The transaction will allow founder Jesus Ceja to retain ownership over his beer labels as the Hanson family does not want to enter the retail beer business.
Hanson Spirits owner Scott Hanson said the sale was a win-win situation for both families because his business was stymied by county government in trying to obtain a permit to sell his Hanson of Sonoma Organic Vodka brand on site. Instead, he bought the Carneros Brewing license.
The deal will allow Hanson Spirits to open up its new tasting room by early April, taking advantage of a 2016 state law that allows distillers to sell their product on site. It will also operate a contract brewery that will make beer for other companies and can handle up to 5,000 barrels annually.
Ceja said he is taking a pause in his beermaking venture but intends to return to the marketplace in the “near future” and would likely make use of his old brewing facility for bottling and kegs.
“We had an offer we couldn’t refuse,” said Ceja, a former brewmaster for Anheuser-Busch who operated the brewery with his three brothers and their families. The deal does not affect Ceja Vineyards, which is a separate business from the brewery.
The sale is notable because Carneros was one of the few Latino-owned breweries in the United States. It specialized in beers outside of the hoppy local favorite, India pale ales, with a highly regarded wheat hefeweizen (called “Jefe-weisen” as a Spanish play on words) as well as a pilsner.
Ceja conceded the tasting room could not attract sufficient visitors because it was located on a highway used mostly by commuters and commercial traffic, exacerbated by the fact the tasting room closed at 5 p.m. and offered no food outside of chips.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “People got off work when we were closing.”
Ceja said he intends to open a new taproom in the area with better foot traffic. “We want to do our due diligence,” he said.
Hanson Spirits has seen good growth with its grape-based vodka since its founding in 2012 and now is available in 26 states, Scott Hanson said. It has introduced a habanero-flavored vodka that has proved popular with millennials, especially for making bloody marys.
“Young people want spicy everything,” he said.
The company also will use the brewery to make whiskey mash for future products.
You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @BillSwindell.