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The year in beer: growing up or selling out?

Posted 12:33pm on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016

Market diversification in craft beer showed no signs of slowing down in 2016 and with it brought some big stories and trends. Here are some of the biggest from this year:

•  Revolver and Karbach sell to the big guys

Perhaps the biggest gasp moments of the year involved two of the state’s most highly regarded breweries. Revolver Brewing in Granbury announced in August that it would be selling a majority interest to MillerCoors’ Tenth and Blake Beer Company. Revolver also subsequently abandoned its significant self-distribution operation by signing on with Andrews Distributing.

Then, in November, Karbach Brewing in Houston announced its sale to ABInbev. With the flurry of acquisitions in 2015, many believed that Texas would not be exempt and these two breweries were the first dominoes to fall in what is likely to be the start of a trend in a state of breweries that pride themselves in independence. How resistant each can stay to a big payday remains to be seen, and this trend will be one of the biggest stories to follow in 2017.

•  Deep Ellum sells majority stake

Storied Craft Breweries, a group owned by an investment firm in Florida, acquired a majority stake in Deep Ellum Brewing Company with the sale being finalized earlier this month. Although not exactly the same as selling to a macrobrewery, the shedding of independence for added capital is the less-talked-about side of craft brewery acquisition. Many national breweries such as Oskar Blues, Victory and Southern Tier have all gone the private equity route and it remains to be seen where the long-term effects of this sellout sidecar end up.

• Northern Brewer sale is bigger than it seems

Quietly and undramatically, Northern Brewer — the largest homebrew supplier in the U.S. — was acquired by a venture capital arm of ABInbev in October. This won’t raise as many eyebrows as a brewery sale, but the results could be an insidious route through the back door for ABInbev.

With the ability to control the purchase and distribution of ingredients, the ability for future abuse exists and some have been vocal in opposition. Brenden Stubblefield, who owns local homebrew shop Texas Brewing Inc. in Haltom City, has been a vocal critic.

“Northern Brewer is about a 1/16th of the whole (homebrewing) industry,” said Stubblefield. “If they could buy out some of the other big ones, they could own the homebrewing market in a hurry. And that’s small fry for (ABInbev). Why else would they want it?”

With the homebrew market significantly down compared to previous years, competition is fierce and it might be years before the true implications of this sale are seen.

•  Arlington makes a mark

Division Brewing and Legal Draft Brewing launched this year and staked a claim for one of DFW’s biggest cities. With only a smattering of beer-centric bars and restaurants (namely Humperdink’s Restaurant and Brewpub) in the city, Arlington was due for some catch-up.

Division has started small with very limited distribution and a robust rotating list at the brewery while Legal Draft launched bigger with wider distribution and cans hitting shelves almost immediately. Mix that in with soon-to-launch New Main Brewing and it’s clear Arlington is on its way up.

•  Lower alcohol on the rise

The year 2016 saw many breweries grow their offerings on the lower end of the alcohol spectrum. As the craft beer craze has grown over the years, there has been a perceived arms race to determine which breweries could make the biggest, baddest beers on the market. However, many Texas breweries have realized that many people just want to drink a beer or two (or three) casually and not end up stumbling around. Many portfolios grew in the sessionable direction and as craft beer becomes less of a niche and more a part of the mainstream, this trend is surely to continue.

•  Foreign invasion!

OK, it’s not really an invasion. However, depending on whom you talk to, the hyperbole surrounding Oskar Blues’ launch of a satellite brewery in Austin is akin to trespassing. Less hay was made about another Coloradoan as Backcountry Brewery launched a satellite brewery of its own in Rowlett. Level-headed beer drinkers see it as another sign that our state’s brewing culture is attractive and growing. That won’t stop.

Quick sips

Breweries Party New Year’s Eve: Several local breweries will be hosting special events at their respective breweries on New Year’s Eve. Noble Rey in Dallas ( http://www.noblereybrewing.com/) and Martin House in Fort Worth ( http://martinhousebrewing.com/) both look to be highlights among the crowd.

Anniversaries ring, too: Peticolas Brewing in Dallas celebrates its fifth anniversary Saturday (sold out) while Division Brewing, at 506 E. Main St. in Arlington, celebrates its first year. Division’s party is still open and will feature barrel-aged beers and speciality firkins from 4 to 10 p.m. divisionbrewing.com

Have questions or tips for Scooter? Shoot him an email at texasbrew@dfw.com. And for more beer columns and news, visit www . dfw . com / beer.

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