Craft beer lovers in Los Angeles and beyond are still reeling from the unexpected news that Anheuser-Busch InBev will acquire Golden Road Brewing, L.A.'s largest craft brewer. While there are a lot of things that are still unfolding, here are a few more details of the deal and what it might mean for craft beer in Los Angeles.
How did the negotiations start?
Contrary to the perception that AB InBev is knocking on brewery doors, Golden Road called AB first. Golden Road Brewing founding partner and President Meg Gill said that she first reached out to AB InBev after having an epiphany on a flight from Chicago in May. She says she was joking with the flight attendant about being "a millennial that won't turn off my phone and won't drink non-IPA [beer]" when she was offered a Goose Island 312 wheat beer. When the flight attendant told Gill that the airline now carried Goose IPA as well, Gill realized that AB was paying attention to the marketplace. Back in Los Angeles, Gill started calling Anheuser-Busch.
"I didn't even know anybody in St. Louis to talk to," she says. "I got connected to Andy [Goeler, CEO of craft beer for Anheuser-Busch InBev's division] right away. There was an exploratory conversation, and we've moved quickly. These guys came and checked out the brewery and the team here. As soon as we saw that vision, both companies were excited to be a part of what the other was doing, and it happened real fast."
"We said, 'Wow, let's do it!' " Goeler said. "What [GRB] has accomplished in four years is just amazing. The explosive growth speaks to the quality of the beer."
What will happen with the other Golden Road locations?
Plans for the three Golden Road expansions are still moving forward. The bar at Grand Central Market should open by the end of the year, while the restaurant and production brewery in Anaheim should be open by the end of 2016. Gill says that the company hopes to have a temporary tasting room open in the Anaheim building by the end of October so that fans can see the new location come together over the next year. The Golden Road Pub at LAX is scheduled to open early next summer.
Golden Road co-founder Tony Yanow declined to comment on the sale of the brewery, but said that he will be refocusing his attention on his two bars —Tony's Darts Away in Burbank and Mohawk Bend in Echo Park — and that things will stay "business as usual" with those locations. They are not part of the brewery acquisition. And Yanow may no longer be part of the brewery anyway.
What will happen to the Golden Road Brewery team?
The brewery staff has not commented on the deal, but expect the senior brewers — Jesse Houck and Victor Novak — to stay in charge of brewing the beer in Los Angeles and, when operational, Anaheim, respectively.
As for the four founding partners of the brewery, Gill and current CFO Paul Burgis will remain in their roles at the brewery, and in a lengthy interview-statement-confessional posted on industry news site Beer Business Daily, Gill revealed that the two other partners, including Yanow, will depart the company.
Is anyone worried about consumer backlash?
"[The consumer backlash] has gotten less and less with each acquisition," Goeler said. "GI [Goose Island, acquired in 2011] was the first step. It went very well for us because we stayed focused on the beers, maintained the company, and we just let them be more of who they were. There's less and less consumer pushback because we have history of showing people that we're going to let Meg and her team do tons more of what they've been doing. We're not going to hinder that or change that. We're here to help and provide resources. It should be a pretty good partnership."
When asked whether she was worried about alienating the craft beer drinkers in Los Angeles, a group that was slow to adopt Golden Road Brewing, Gill responded by talking about the brand's retail partners and the extra marketing efforts that AB InBev's backing would allow. She didn't seem worried about craft beer fans turning their back on the newest craft turncoat.
What does this buyout mean for the Los Angeles Brewers Guild and the future of L.A. Beer Week?
Francis Lopez, executive director of the L.A. Brewers Guild, provided this statement:
"We are at a crossroads for beer in Los Angeles right now. It is still too soon to tell what the real impact of this will be on our greater community. However, a major concern here will be how this affects the playing field. In the age of rotating taps, and a very saturated number of breweries in California, it has already been an uphill climb for many other brewers."