Despite previously denying rumors they were selling to a larger brewery, and despite only recently joining the Australian Independent Brewers Association, the Sydney-based 4 Pines Beer announced their sale last night to Anheuser-Busch InBev via the company’s ZX Ventures arm.
Indeed, the AB Inbev venture arm is acquiring breweries internationally—London’s Camden Town Brewery, for example—and when they enter the U.S., they work alongside AB InBev’s High End group in New York, which manages stateside acquisitions such as Goose Island and Elysian. How this affects the standing of anti-trust concerns after the SABMiller deal and stateside DOJ watchfulness is unclear. It's also unclear how the expectations and strategies for Zx-acquired breweries might differ from those acquired through more conventional deals.
[Disclosure: Good Beer Hunting's studio side is the Executive Producer of a Condé Nast project, October, in which ZX Ventures is an investor.]
4 Pines was founded in 2008 and has won Champion Large Brewery at the Craft Beer Industry Awards in 2014, and Champion Large Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards.
It’s a surprising move, given that the brewery’s stance on independence in the past has always been firm. They held off joining the Craft Beer Industry Association (now the IBA), which IBA executive Chris McNamara tells GBH was due to the fact that foreign-owned breweries such as Mountain Goat and Little Creatures were previously allowed membership. 4 Pines joined once larger brewers were excluded from the reformed association.
McNamara says it’s “disappointing” to lose a key player in the industry, and that they will begin the process of terminating their membership, which only began in July this year. But ultimately, he says, it’s a positive reflection on the industry.
“The purchase underscores the impact the independent brewing industry is having on the traditional beer market in Australia and overseas.”
In yesterday’s announcement, 4 Pines co-founder Jaron Mitchell writes:
“Our purpose has always been to restore the fun in people’s lives and forever challenge what the world imagines business should be. So we will keep doing what we’ve always done, except now we are able to realize our long-term goals even sooner and immediately roll out some plans that are seriously epic.”
WHY IT MATTERS
Last year, 4 Pines—via its Instagram account—denied rumors they had sold to Japanese brewing giant Asahi, including the hashtags #familyowned and #proudlyindependent.
On the issue of big brewers using “faux” craft brands to market beer, Mitchell told News.com.au in 2014:
"They aren't locally owned. They aren't small batch. It's tough for them to engage consumers to have a real relationship with their breweries. Where SABMiller and Lion can't compete with Australian owned 'craft brewers,' there is no logical reason for them to tell consumers about it. Disclosing this information would only weaken their market strength and consumer perception."
For the Australian industry, like any major buyout news, it’s still too early to tell what impacts the sale will have. While Australia is no stranger to buyouts (Little Creatures is a subsidiary of Kirin, and Mountain Goat was acquired by Asahi.), its previous acquisitions were legacy brands whereas 4 Pines is a relatively young company. For their part, 4 Pines says they’re already planning investment as a result of this and there are no immediate changes to the team.