Aug 16, 2023 - Business

Widmer and 10 Barrel can regain "craft" status

The interior of a bar with a sign reading 10 barrel brewing above it.

10 Barrel beer on offer in Portland's Moda Center. Photo: Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Anheuser-Busch's sale of Portland's Widmer Brothers Brewing and Bend's 10 Barrel Brewing means the popular brands can once again be dubbed "craft brewers."

Why it matters: Craft beer is a protected seal within the industry, used to boost marketing and tap into consumers who prioritize drinking independent local beer.

State of play: The Brewers Association, based in Boulder, Colorado, defines "craft" by the number of barrels a brewery produces each year and its ownership structure.

  • Brands can apply to use the craft marketing seal. Widmer and 10 Barrel did not immediately respond to requests for comment about their plans.

Details: Tilray, the global cannabis company that is buying Widmer and 10 Barrel, was ranked ninth-largest among craft brewers nationally last year, based on volume of beer sales. The company predicts its new purchases will catapult it to fifth.

What they're saying: Although Tilray is big, it doesn't offer the heft of a large brewer, like "large-scale production facilities, raw material purchasing or influence at distribution and retail," Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson told Axios in an email.

Catch up quick: Anheuser-Busch bought 10 Barrel Brewing nearly a decade ago, then Widmer in 2019 — a period when international mega-beer makers were acquiring smaller operations to take advantage of the appeal of craft beer.

  • More recently, the craft beer industry has been struggling with both sales and festivals, but still considers itself the antithesis to the mass-produced, less flavorful big brands.

Yes, but: The potential to return to the craft label doesn't impress Ezra Johnson-Greenough, publisher of a web magazine called The New School, which focuses on Oregon beer and cider.

  • "People know what a craft brewer is, or they don't care," he told Axios.

What we're watching: Whether Widmer and 10 Barrel will actively re-join the local craft fold.

  • "We were very sad" when the local brands lost craft status, Christina LaRue, executive director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, told Axios.
  • Under new ownership, they may again be able to participate in craft-only events like the Portland Fresh Hops Fest and Zwickelmania. "There's been excitement around that," LaRue said.

What's next: The Tilray purchase is all cash and expected to close later this year.

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