New Belgium Brewing Company to sell to Kirin, maybe

19 November, 2019

The first day my wife and moved into Fort Collins we headed to a local brewpub where I naively asked "what is Fat Tire?" Without skipping a beat the waitress replied "you're not from around here." That was almost 17 years ago today when New Belgium and it's flagship Fat Tire (among other amazing brews) where established rising stars of the bustling Colorado craft beer scene. Today, after 30 years in business, New Belgium announced the "in the works sale" to Little Little World Beverages, a global craft arm of Lion, an Australian beverage and food company that is a subsidiary of Japanese beverage giant Kirin.

The Facts:

Lion Little World Beverages will acquire 100% of New Belgium in an all-cash transaction that is expected to close by the end of the year, pending approvals by regulators and New Belgium's employee stock ownership plan, according to a press release sent Tuesday.

Neither Lion Little World Beverages nor New Belgium is disclosing the sale price for the nation's fourth-largest craft brewer, or any other terms of the deal. But more than 300 employees will receive $100,000 of retirement money,"with some receiving significantly greater amounts," co-founder Kim Jordan said in an open letter.

Once inked, the acquisition will mean New Belgium is no longer employee-owned, she said. Since 1991, when New Belgium was founded by Jordan and her then-husband Jeff Lebesch in their Fort Collins basement, after taking a second mortgage on their home, it has grown into one of the nation's craft beer giants.

It's Not Final:

In 2000, New Belgium became partially employee-owned, with Jordan and her family holding a controlling interest in the company. It transitioned to full employee ownership in 2012. Over time, its employee stock ownership plan, or ESOP, has grown and – including this latest possible transaction – will have paid a total of $190 million to current and former employees over the past 19 years. Members of New Belgium's ESOP – current and former employees included – will vote on the deal before it is finalized, a New Belgium spokesperson said.

We'll see how this plays out. Think Gordon Gecko's infamous "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good." speech at the Teldar Paper annual shareholder's meeting ringing through the voting hall and bright tanks this Winter. Will the ESOP bank on their blood, sweat and tears and keep the company, steering the (mother)ship through the growing ice field that is the craft brewing sea or will the allure of secured futures and "we promise not much will change" win out. And, if they do sell, will you really stop drinking New Belgium beer just because they are owned by someone else? Let's not ignore the fact of slipping sales figures that a lot of you have stopped drinking their beer anyway, while they do still own it.