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What to expect from new ownership of local breweries.

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MIKE RIEDEL
  • Mike Riedel

The week of Jan. 10, 2022 saw one of the biggest upheavals in Utah's craft beer industry since its inception in 1986. In one week, it was announced that two of Utah's largest beer makers were acquired by two different beverage companies: Uinta Brewing by United States Beverage out of Stamford, Conn.; and CANarchy-owned Wasatch/Squatters by Monster Beverage Corp. (makers of Monster Energy drinks). While one of these deals may affect local consumers less than the other, changes are definitely coming to Utah's adult beverage landscape.

We'll start with the Uinta Brewing deal. Founded in 1993, Uinta was the third craft-brewing entity to take root in the state. With staples like Cutthroat Pale Ale and Golden Spike Hefeweizen, the brewery quickly became popular around the state. In August 2014, Uinta announced that it sold a percentage of the brewery to the Riverside Company, a New York-based private equity firm. In 2019, Riverside exited its investment in Salt Lake City's Uinta Brewing Company, as Golub Capital Investments came in to fill the gap.

The new U.S. Beverage deal offers something new that Uinta hasn't had in the last eight years: decision-makers who know the beverage industry. Having an importer at the helm will open many doors to Uinta's brands, and provide access to new markets. Some of the cons: new and popular non-beer beverages, like alcoholic seltzers and cocktails, may squeeze out space previously occupied by beer brands. The local themes that Uinta has built their brand on may become more diminished as well. Only time will tell.

The Monster Beverage acquisition may have a greater impact on the local craft beer scene and in other craft beer markets where CANarchy has had a foothold. Fireman Capital, a private equity firm out of Boston, was the first to invest in the Utah Brewers Cooperative (Wasatch/Squatters) in 2012, when it purchased a majority interest in the UBC. Over the years since then, Capital would acquire other brewers, including Oskar Blues, Cigar City and five other regional craft breweries, forming CANarchy in 2015.

Monster said the deal would add Cigar City, Oskar Blues, Deep Ellum, Perrin Brewing, Squatters and Wasatch to its portfolio, but would exclude CANarchy's many restaurants and brewpubs. So basically, what they're saying is that all Monster wants is the big production brewing facilities, and that it has no interest in being in the restaurant/hospitality industry.

This has the potential to shutter two of Utah's founding craft breweries: Wasatch's Park City Main Street Brewery/Pub, and Salt Lake Brewing Company (Squatters). There's a lot of history wrapped-up in these two locations. The Park City brewery was the first craft brewery in the state, and Squatters' downtown location on Broadway was Salt Lake City's first craft brewery. These two institutions could be closed, or become properties that can no longer bear their historic names.

This would also affect many other Wasatch Squatters locations, including Squatters Roadhouse Grill, Squatters Airport Bar, Wasatch/Squatters Craft Cafe and Wasatch's Sugar House pub. And if you're a fan of places like Oskar Blues' Boulder and Longmont, Colo. brewpubs, along with Cigar City's Spruce Street Brewery/Taproom in Tampa, Florida, you may find those gone as well.

Before the beer laws changed in 2019, Utah's craft beer market existed in a bit of a bubble. Not many out-of-state breweries looked toward Utah, and only a handful of local brands spread the home flavors beyond our borders. This has changed greatly over the last few years. These are just some of the benefits (and problems) that having a seat at the grown-ups' table can bring. It's very early in the acquisition process, and all plans are still in their infancy, so keep your eyes here for updates—and support Uinta, Wasatch and Squatters throughout what will likely be a crazy beer year. As always, cheers.

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