Anheuser-Busch To Buy Breckenridge Brewery

Photo: Breckenridge Brewery downtown Denver
Breckenridge Colorado Craft opened in 1992, one of the first brewpubs in the city of Denver.

Anheuser-Busch announced Tuesday it will acquire Breckenridge Brewery, one of Colorado's most well-known craft beer makers.

The deal is the latest in a string of acquisitions for industry giant Anheuser-Busch. It already owns six formerly independent breweries like Chicago's Goose Island and Tempe, Arizona's Four Peaks. They are organized under the "High End" portfolio, A-B's craft beer business unit.

“We’re excited about the partnership and have been encouraged to continue on our path and become more innovative moving forward,” Todd Usry, president of Breckenridge Brewery said in a statement.

Photo: Breckenridge Brewery's Agave Wheat
The Agave Wheat, one of Breckenridge Brewery's beers.

Breckenridge is the country's 60th-largest brewery, and the sixth-largest in Colorado, the Boulder-based Brewers Association says. It sells beer in 35 states.

Breckenridge's Facebook fans did not take the news well.

"Sad to hear about the A-B buyout," Bill Baxter wrote, echoing other posts. "Wish you were staying independent."

In an open letter to its fans explaining the sale, Ursy wrote that Breckenridge's passion for quality "isn't going anywhere."

We’ll continue to own decisions about the beers we create and the ingredients in them. What people relate to in this industry is authenticity. If there were plans to come in and change our employees, our culture, and our recipes, well, that would completely undermine the reason for the partnership at all. What this new partnership does offer us is access to resources that will help us continue to innovate and bring our beer to more people.

That's a departure from comments he made to Denver Post in February of this year.

“I think there is some serious authenticity that is lost, and that the brand loses,” Ursy said of breweries that sell out. “We’re not corporate. We are entrepreneurial and individual.”

Breckenridge's management company, Breckenridge-Wynkoop, will still own and operate a number of its properties including Breckenridge Colorado Craft and the Cherry Cricket in Denver and Phantom Canyon Brewing in Colorado Springs. A-B will take over Breckenridge's new production brewery and restaurant in Littleton and their original location in Breckenridge.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Just last week, acquisition rumors swirled about another established craft brewery in the state -- Fort Collins-based New Belgium. The company said no deal was pending "at this time."

Big Beer Fights Back

Craft beer's market share has double over the last five years, the Brewers Association says, now accounting for more than one in every 10 beers sold in the U.S.

And big beer has taken notice. Anheuser-Bush has been buying up distributors around the country, including two in Colorado. That threatens to undo the traditional three-tiered system of independent ownership of production, distribution and direct sales. They are also offering incentives to distributors who only carry A-B brands.

It all adds up to fears about fewer independent craft brews on local liquor store shelves.

"That’s the thing that worries small and independent breweries," Bart Watson, a Brewers Assocation economist, told CPR News' Ben Markus.

In the short-term, Watson expects more Breckenridge beer in liquor stores.

"In the long run, it’ll be up to beer lovers," he said. If they’re buying that beer it’ll stay in the store, and if not there’s only so much you can do to push products down without having to pull from consumers."