Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

The Big Merger: Redhook and Widmer

By William Brand
Wednesday, November 14th, 2007 at 9:04 pm in Uncategorized.

gif-image-296×201-pixels.jpgIt had to happen. They announced it late Tuesday, but I was totally immersed in San Francisco Bay oil spill stories in my day job as a reporter and couldn’t deal with it ’til tonight.

Widmer Bros. and Redhook have been talking merger for some time. But what does it all mean? I dunno. Obviously, it gives Anheuser-Busch, a bit more than an intrusive elbow into what _ when the deal is approved by
Redhook stockholders early next year, – A-B will have an approximate one-third interest in the new company.

The merger will create the third or maybe the fourth largest “craft brewer” in America, after number one, Boston Beer Co. with production last year of about 1.2 million barrels, and number two, Sierra Nevada, which sold 650,000 barrels last year.

According to Beer Marketers Insights, an industry newsletter, Widmer shipped shipped 269,000 barrels last year and Redhook 168,000 for 437,000 barrels. That puts New Belgium still third with 438,000 barrels, but there are a number of odd barrels in the count. Will have to check with the Brewer’s Association in the AM.

We’ll see a lot more Widmer beers at Anheuser-Busch dominated events from now on, just like there’s a lot of Red Hook anytime Bud’s being sold.

Redhook Paul ShipmanPaul Shipman, who co-founded Redhook Aale Brewery in 1981 with Gordon Bowker (10 years after Bowker co-founded Starbucks), plans to retire when the Redhook-Widmer deal goes through.

A little more biz stuff, before I get to the beer. Both will continue brewing where they brew now, but Redhood will brew Widmer beers at its Portsmouth, NH brewery.

Oh yes: Name of the new company will be — are yo ready for this: Drum roll here: Craft Brewers Alliance. They’ll also stay connected in a distribution agreement with Chicago’s Goose Island.
Both the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had excellent stories this morning. You can find them here and here.

Here’s what I think. This has to help Red Hook. The company’s been languishing for a while; their best-selling ESB is nothing like the rough-hewn, funky Red Hook ESB of the 1980s. It’s clean and well-made and boring. They make an IPA that’s quite good, but who doesn’t.

The Widmer Brothers, Kurt and Rob, who founded Widmer in 1984, used the cash infusion from the Anheuser-Busch buy in to improve their products. They make excellent beer. Their best-seller is Widmer Hefeweizen, the ubiquitous hefe, usually seen in a frosted glass with a lemon slice like it was a Tecate.

I find it too dry, but most people, geeks aside, love it and it popularized the style in America. So more power to em. I like Drop Top Amber, a very decent beer, and Snowplow Milk Stout, which won a gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2004. It was produced by Widmer with the help of the Oregon Brew Crew, a homebrew club.

In summary. Hate to see consolidation, but this one makes sense and the guys at Widmer can inject some enthusiasm into Red Hook, we’re all winners.

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