The Word of the Week is "Legacy"

A few minutes ago, that new company that formed when Ninkasi joined a real estate investment firm (Legacy Breweries) announced its first acquisitions:

Legacy Breweries, the parent company of Ninkasi Brewing Company, has partnered with both Aspen Brewing Company (Aspen, Colorado) and Laurelwood Brewing Company (Portland, Oregon). Legacy will obtain all Aspen assets, including brand, production facilities, and the pub in downtown Aspen. All Laurelwood assets will transfer ownership, except for the Laurelwood Brewpub, which will continue to operate under the original ownership. Both Aspen and Laurelwood will continue to produce beer as independent craft breweries under their respective brand names with the support of Legacy.

[Note to world: when a company buys another company, it’s not “partnering.” You don’t have to say, “picked the bones of a dying brand,” but knock it off with this partnering business, willya?] You can read the press release here, or or a nice account of the Aspen component here. There’s not a lot to add; Laurelwood has been a troubled brewery for years, and recently announced the closure of its Sellwood pub. It’s been around since 2001 and has a whole raft of impressive brewers over the years, but its high-water mark came maybe five years ago, and it’s been scrambling to find a way forward since. Aspen is eleven years old, and is apparently running into similar headwinds.

Laurelwood founder Mike Dekalb. Photo: Brewery Running Series

The Legacy approach will be interesting to watch, because it’s focused on physical spaces. CEO Don Bryant added this interesting detail when he spoke to the Aspen Times: “Over the last year have been in discussion 125 to 130 breweries. Not all of them fit our criteria, but we are in late-stage discussion with about six of those, and our goal is by the end of 2020 to have 15 breweries.”

Boulder Beer Scales Way Back

In other little-L legacy brewing news, the oldest extant craft brewery in the country announced it was going through a massive downsizing. The Boulder Daily Camera has the story:

Faced with increased competition, Boulder Beer Co. announced Thursday it is downsizing and it plans to discontinue widespread distribution…. The downsizing means the loss of 21 jobs from about 50 over the next two months, particularly in the brewing and packaging department, Marketing Director Tess McFadden said…. The brewery produced 16,305 barrels in 2018. Next year, production would be limited to about 1,000 barrels, McFadden said.

[As a bit of further context, that 16,000 barrels Boulder made last year is down from about 30,000 five years earlier.]

This one cuts a little close to the quick for me—and probably most fans of American brewing. Boulder wasn’t the very first new brewery born in the 1970s, but it is the oldest one still surviving. It beat Sierra Nevada to the market by a few months. It has never been one of the big national brands, but it did have a regional footprint, and its status as one of the granddads was important in Colorado, where Charlie Papazian established the infrastructure for supporting small breweries.

On a personal note, my friend David Zuckerman has been the master brewer there for the past 29 years. When I was a freshman in college, he was a senior living off-campus in what seemed to me like the most sophisticated home in the city. You walked into the living room and a full-sized fridge stood immediately in front of you; from it protruded two taps. David was already homebrewing at a massive scale there, working for BridgePort, and would soon become a professional brewer. He joined Boulder in 1990—though he stepped back into semi-retirement earlier this year. We hear these stories all the time, but when you know someone at the brewery, it brings it home at a human scale. I’m sure this was an agonizing decision, and my heart goes out to those who are losing their jobs.

It’s hard out there for an old brewery. Godspeed to those of you who are trying to figure out how to keep volumes up.

Cover photo of Jeff Brown and David Zuckerman: Boulder Beer

Jeff Alworth2 Comments