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Heineken takes stake in Lagunitas in one of the biggest craft-brewing deals

Heineken is acquiring a 50% stake in California craft brewer Lagunitas.

Heineken is acquiring a 50% stake in California craft brewer Lagunitas.

(Abel Uribe / Chicago Tribune)

European beer giant Heineken is acquiring a 50% stake in Lagunitas Brewing Co., helping the fast-growing California craft-brewing pioneer expand overseas.

The partnership better positions Amsterdam-based Heineken -- the second-largest brewer in the world by revenue -- to capture a piece of the booming U.S. craft beer market. Lagunitas is the fifth-largest craft brewer by volume in the U.S., and the second-largest in California.

Financial terms were not disclosed, but analysts said the deal could be one of the biggest ever in the craft-brewing industry.

Petaluma-based Lagunitas was founded in 1993 by Tony Magee, who also serves as the company’s executive chairman and will continue to lead the company after the deal. Lagunitas will remain a separate entity, according to Heineken.

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“We look forward to that same team partnering with us to expand Lagunitas globally, so it can reach parts of the world that other craft beer brands have not,” Jean-François van Boxmeer, chief executive of Heineken, said in a statement.

Magee said the focus of the partnership would be on international distribution.

Lagunitas is known for its India pale ale, a hoppy style of beer that, Heineken noted, is the fastest-growing category in the U.S. craft segment. Craft beer continues to outperform the overall U.S. beer market, and now represents 11% of total volumes.

The number of craft breweries in the nation increased to 3,418 in 2014, a 19.4% increase from the year before, according to the Brewers Assn., a trade group.

California has nearly 600 craft breweries, the highest number of any state, according to the California Craft Brewers Assn. The Golden State also produces more craft beer than any other state -- about 3.5 million barrels of beer in 2014.

Part of the appeal of craft beer is its story, said Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Assn.

“Craft beer is an authentic story, a true story,” he said. “It’s been hard for all the big global breweries to replicate the popularity of craft beer by producing their own craft beers because they don’t have the story and they lack the authenticity.”

By forming a partnership with Lagunitas, Heineken gets a craft brand with a proven track record, McCormick said.

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Lagunitas has a strong national presence and has already expanded into Britain, Japan, Sweden and Canada.

McCormick said the deal could be the biggest in the craft brewing industry to date.

“Lagunitas has just been on an absolute tear in growth,” he said. “It’s a very successful brand with a story behind it that can be told really around the world.”

The company operates two breweries -- one in Petaluma and one in Chicago -- with a third in Azusa set to open in 2017.

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The 180,000-square-foot facility will be the largest craft brewery in Los Angeles County, initially producing more than 400,000 barrels a year. The brewery’s maximum capacity will be 1 million barrels a year.

This is not the first time that a major brewing company has tried to get a piece of the craft market. Last year the North American subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased New York-based craft brewery Blue Point Brewing Co.

The Lagunitas-Heineken deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of this year.

For more business news, follow @smasunaga.

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