Brewscape: The Latest Craft Beer Brand News

Brewers Association Ranks Top US Brewing Companies

In March, The Brewers Association released its annual rankings of the top U.S. beer companies based on projected 2018 sales volume.

Amongst BA-defined small and independent craft brewing companies – those businesses that make fewer than 6 million barrels of beer annually and are less than 25 percent owned by a non-craft brewer – Pennsylvania’s D.G. Yuengling & Son once again secured the top spot as the largest producer of craft beer in the U.S.

Boston Beer Company and Sierra Nevada Brewing ranked second and third, respectively, and the top seven-ranked breweries remained unchanged versus last year.

Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist made the biggest leap forward last year, moving up 11 places (from 39th to 28th) from its 2017 ranking, according to statistics published in the May/June issue of the BA’s New Brewer magazine.

Meanwhile, San Diego’s Modern Times Beer cracked the top 50 list for the first time, moving up 11 places, from 56th in 2017 to 45th in 2018.

Among the top 50 producers, 15 companies lost ground, with Oregon’s Full Sail Brewing falling the farthest, from 29th in 2017 to 44th in 2018. Elsewhere, California’s Bear Republic Brewing also dropped seven places, while Colorado’s Left Hand Brewing and Utah’s Uinta each dropped six spots.

It’s worth noting that the BA’s top 50 “U.S. craft brewing companies” list does not include some notable brewing ventures that many would consider producers of “craft beer.”

Michigan’s Founders Brewing, which sold a 30 percent stake to Mahou San Miguel in 2014, was excluded from the “craft brewing” list because of its ownership structure. It did, however, rank as the 14th largest overall beer company in the U.S. in 2018, according to the BA.

Anheuser-Busch to Acquire Fast-Growing Cutwater Spirits

In February, Anheuser-Busch InBev announced the purchase of fast-growing Cutwater Spirits, a craft distilling venture that was originally born inside of Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits.

Specific financial terms of the deal – A-B InBev’s first in the spirits space – were not disclosed. The transaction, which is for 100 percent of the Cutwater business, is expected to close in Q1.

Founded by former Ballast Point Brewing executives Yuseff Cherney (then-COO), Earl Kight (then-CCO) and Jim Buechler (then-CEO), along with investment from Ballast point founder Jack White, Cutwater operates a sprawling 50,000 sq. ft. distillery, tasting room and kitchen in San Diego’s Miramar neighborhood, which is home to numerous craft breweries, including Ballast Point.

Harpoon to Partner with Polar on Forthcoming Hard Seltzer Line

Boston’s Harpoon Brewery is the latest craft brewery jumping into the hard seltzer space.

The new product line, a collaborative effort with Worcester, Mass.-based beverage producer and distributor Polar Beverages, is called Arctic Summer.

Starting in late April, Harpoon will begin shipping four flavors – Ruby Red Grapefruit, Pineapple Pomelo, Raspberry Lime, and Black Cherry – to its Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic markets, according to brewery co-founder and CEO Dan Kenary.

Kenary said the new venture marks the first time a beer company has teamed up with a non-alcoholic seltzer brand for the creation of spiked offerings.

Made with 100 percent cane sugar, the four flavors – which will be sold in 6-packs and variety 12-packs – will check in at 5 percent ABV. Flavored with “the same essences that Polar uses in its non-alcoholic products,” they will contain 110 calories and just 1 gram of sugar, Kenary said.

Harpoon is jumping into an already crowded hard seltzer space at a time when numerous craft breweries have recently rolled out products aimed at competing with dominate brands made by major players.

In recent months, a variety of companies have sought to grab a piece of a $520 million hard seltzer segment, which grew 175 percent during the 52-week period ending Jan. 26, according to Nielsen. These include brands such as Oskar Blues (Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water), Braxton Brewing (Vive Hard Seltzer), Perrin Brewing (Clear Coast Fresh Hard Seltzer) NoDa Brewing (Brizo Hard Seltzer), Perrin Brewing (Clear Coast Hard Seltzer) and Platform Beer Company.

Category leader Mark Anthony Brands sold nearly $195 million worth of its White Claw Hard Seltzer offerings at off-premise retailers last year, as the company grew its portfolio-wide depletions 29 percent. Boston Beer Company’s recently rebranded Truly Hard Seltzer (originally called Truly Spiked & Sparkling) is the next largest brand in the segment, with sales of its variety pack offering alone eclipsing $59 million in 2018.

Other top brands include Bon & Viv spiked seltzer (Anheuser-Busch), Henry’s Hard Sparkling Water (MillerCoors), Svedka Spiked Premium Seltzer (Constellation Brands) and Smirnoff Hard Sparkling (Diageo). Meanwhile, nearly a dozen other companies are currently making or have announced plans to introduce hard seltzer and other “spiked” products.

tes under a biennial system. If the Texas breweries are unsuccessful in their attempts to lobby for brewery to-go sales, they won’t be able to revisit the issue until 2021.

Heineken USA Cuts 15 Percent of Workforce

Heineken USA (HUSA) announced in February it would slash 15 percent of its overall workforce.

In a statement, HUSA spokesman Bjorn Trowery said the restructuring would enable the company to operate more efficiently.

“This will help Heineken USA be more cost effective, and allow us to reinvest behind our brands and business in the U.S. While change that impacts our people is always difficult, we believe these changes will better position Heineken USA for the future,” he wrote.

At the time, Trowery said that the company was “actively” seeking “new opportunities” for the affected workers.

HUSA is the latest major U.S. beer company to announce layoffs. Last year, Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Constellation Brands and Pabst Brewing all made significant cuts to their respective workforces.

A number of well-known craft beer companies, including Heineken International-owned Lagunitas, which cut 12 percent of its workforce last October, have also scaled back in recent months.

Last December, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery laid off dozens of employees, citing missed growth projections. Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing also cut its workforce by about 4 percent around this time last year.

The reductions come at a time when category-wide beer sales are relatively sluggish. Though off-premise sales at major chain retailers increased about 1.8 percent in 2018, according to market research firm IRI, shipments of beer made domestically declined by about 2 percent, according to the Beer Institute.