The news last week that Mick Fanning-backed craft beer label Balter Brewing had been scooped up by Carlton and United Brewers (CUB) probably came as little surprise for the truly committed froth lords out there.
That’s because it has been something of a trend in recent years. The routine plays out the same way: A local label picks up steam, gets traction in the wider market, and then – wham! – it gets swept up by one of the big conglomerates which dominate booze distribution in Australia.
There are plainly great reasons why an independent brewer might want to be acquired – and it isn’t just the money. The beer titans, which include CUB and Lion — both of which are owned by international conglomerates — have far more developed brewing and distribution networks, which can enable formerly small breweries to develop and sell their product at a far greater scale.
In a letter to fans announcing the acquisition, Balter pointed to this increase in scale as their reason – while acknowledging many of their customers value independence.
“We’ve always believed that good beer is for everybody and this is a great way to continue that mission of sharing ‘good beer, with enjoyment’,” the letter reads. “It also means we’ll be able to manage the epic growth we’ve experienced since day one, in a way that won’t affect the quality of the beer, or sanity of the people in the business.”
The Independent Brewers Association (IBA), which represents and provides support for indie brewers in Australia, said in a statement to Business Insider Australia that Balter’s membership had lapsed anyway, but it’s new position under the CUB banner would obviously render it ineligible to be part of the organisation. A spokesperson for the IBA said its goal is to offer some of the benefits of scale for the smaller brewers who want to stay indie.
“The large multinational brewers and beverage companies have access to a vast amount of technical resources. They have a powerful seat at the table when it comes to advocacy, and they have well-resourced marketing programs and dominant distribution platforms,” the spokesperson said.
“Individually the independent brewers in Australia do not have access to that level of resource and therefore we have committed to a membership organisation that develops a strong collective voice, and collaboratively develops and provides resources which its members could never access on their own.”
However, it could be the case that the spate of craft beer acquisitions might be slowing. A report in the AFR in July said the near-meteoric growth of craft beer brands had slowed in recent months, making it a less enticing sector to help arrest the sideways – or negative – growth of mainstream beer brands.
Yet here we are six months later, with another plucky craft brand falling under the umbrella of the beer giants. On that note, here are six Australian craft beer labels which have been snapped up by a big corporate brewer.
Anyone who spends any time hanging around pubs – and there’s no shame in it! – would certainly have noticed 4 Pines is on tap all over the place now.
That’s no accident: 4 Pines, which started with micro-breweries in Brookvale and Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches, was acquired by multinational beverage giant AB InBev in 2017.
AB InBev also happens to own CUB – at least until the $16 billion acquisition of the latter by Japan’s Asahi is approved.
Like 4 Pines, Pirate Life was also an acquisition by AB InBev. In fact, it happened only two months later.
Not a bad result, considering Pirate Life only launched in 2014.
“The reality is we have run out of capacity at Hindmarsh,” brewer Jared “Red” Proudfoot told the AFR at the time, referring to the company’s existing brewery in Port Adelaide.
Matilda Bay Brewing Company
Australia’s first craft brewery was also one of the first to be acquired. We can’t quite place Matilda Bay’s acquisition in the same family as the recent spate of buyouts – it was picked up by Carlton & United Breweries in 1990. It had opened the doors to its main brewery a year earlier in 1989.
In October, the AFR reported CUB was making moves to rejuvenate the decades-old brand, tapping Aussie craft brewing pioneer Phil Sexton to open up a new Victorian boutique brewery to bring some focus back to Matilda Bay Brewing.
Little Creatures was established in 2000 by the original brewers from the Matilda Bay Brewing Company – who we’ll get to in a moment.
The parent company of the Fremantle-based label is Little World Beverages, which has been a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lion since 2012. Shortly after the acquisition in 2013, a second Little Creatures brewery opened up in Geelong, Victoria.
Lion already owned part of Little Creatures before the acquisition – with the final deal valuing the brewer at $381.6 million.
Feral Brewing Company
Another beer from the west, Feral Brewing fired up in 2002.
It too was scooped up in an acquisition, but by a fairly unique player: Since 2017, the company has been owned by Coca-Cola Amatil.
“We have acquired them in the interests of enabling them to distribute their products more widely around Australia,” a Coca-Cola Amatil spokesman said at the time, according to SBS.
Coca-Cola Amatil also owns craft label Yenda, based in New South Wales.
Mountain Goat Beer
Another beer which seems to be everywhere these days is Mountain Goat, and for good reason.
The brewery, founded in Richmond, Victoria in the positively prehistoric era of 1997, was bought by Asahi back in 2015.
Prior to the acquisition, Mountain Goat partnered with Asahi for its international distribution.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.