Buyer assures little will change at Boonville's 23-year-old Anderson Valley Brewery

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After 23 years of creating world renowned craft beer at Anderson Valley Brewery, Ken Allen is passing on his legacy to a new, younger owner.

Trey White, a former executive vice president of United States Beverage, said he plans to step quietly into Allen's shoes. Allen will remain as a consultant for four years.

White, 45, brings 15 years of experience in marketing and distributing beer and spirits. He said only the marketing end of the business will change.

Two silent partners will not be involved in the business, he said.

That comes as a relief to Boonville residents who for months have heard rumors that the brewery had been bought by a corporation that might relocate it. With 47 employees, the brewery is the one-street town's largest employer.

"They're not changing anything. That's a good deal," said Keith Martin, a lifelong resident and manager at Anderson Valley Market and Liquor.

Since opening his brewery in 1987, Allen has been at the forefront of the American craft beer renaissance. Now 70, he said, "It's just kind of time for me to stop. I've been there, done it."

Allen started brewing beer in the back of his Boonville chiropractic office in 1985, when he was 45. After two years, he opened Anderson Valley Brewing Co., one of just 20 craft breweries in the country.

"Six months later, we had 65," Allen said.

Now there are more than 1,500, said Julia Herz, a spokeswoman for the Brewers Association, the country's largest brewers association.

Allen's business also grew, from about 600 barrels the first year to about 26,000 barrels this year, or roughly 8 million bottles of beer, White said.

The craft beer industry continues to grow, now claiming 5 percent of all beer sales. And while fine wines and the larger beer industry took a financial hit during the recession, the market for craft beers grew.

Sales increased 10.3 percent in 2009, while overall beer sales declined 2.2 percent, Herz said.

About 97 percent of the nation's craft breweries remain small and independent, producing less than 2 million barrels a year, she said. But as industry pioneers age, more are likely to change hands.

"It's bound to happen as people mature," said Ken Grossman, who co-founded the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. 30 years ago.

At 55, Grossman is one of the youngest brewing pioneers and is not ready to retire. When the time comes, he said, at least two of his children plan to step in.

Other brewers have sold to employee cooperatives. But those without willing, able heirs or employees must consider selling to outsiders when it's time to leave the business, a prospect that raises anxiety in the craft industry.

"A lot of people look unfavorably on that in the craft brewing industry," said Bret Cooperrider, co-owner of the family run, organic Ukiah Brewing Co. He brews just 400 barrels a year and sells most of it in the brewpub.

Across town, Mendocino Brewing Co. produces about 140,000 barrels a year and employs 83 in the U.S. and England. It opened in 1983 as the Hopland Brewery, but sold stock in 1995 to finance a new manufacturing plant in Ukiah. Although co-founder H. Michael Laybourn still serves on the board of directors, 78 percent of the company's stock is now held by United Breweries Group of Bangalore, India.

Like Allen, legendary craft brewer Fritz Maytag hand picked an appropriate successor when he sold the San Francisco-based Anchor Brewing Co. He saved it from bankruptcy in 1965 and is credited with leading the way and mentoring other craft brewers.

Maytag, 72, sold his brewery in April to Keith Greggor and Tony Foglio, both veterans of the spirits industry.

White also took possession of Anderson Valley Brewery in April. and said he expects to enjoy the process.

"It's a very, very fun industry," he said.

White said he will expand the company's marketing program in an effort to eat away at big corporations' share of the market, but promised to continue Allen's dedication to making quality beer.

You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 462-6473 or glenda.anderson

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