Fat Tire Brewer New Belgium, 4th Biggest American Craft Brewer, Snatched Up By Japanese Beer Conglomerate

Colorado's New Belgium Brewing, the fourth-largest craft brewer in the U.S., is being acquired by Lion Little World Beverages of Australia, which is owned by Kirin Holdings, a Japanese beer conglomerate.

Getty Image / Helen H. Richardson / Contributor

Another craft brewery has been bought up by big beer. New Belgium Brewing, who makes Fat Tire beer, has been acquired by Australia’s largest brewer Lion Little World Beverages, which is owned by Japan’s Kirin Holdings Co. Ltd.

Kirin Holdings and Lion Little World Beverages acquired the highly sought after U.S. brewer in an all-cash transaction that is expected to be completed by the end of this year contingent to approval by regulators and the employee stock ownership plan. Employees with stakes in the company still need to approve the deal. The amount of the transaction was not released.

New Belgium, which is best known for its Fat Tire beer, will keep its headquarters in The Fort Collins, Colorado. The company opened a brewery in the beer haven in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2016.

New Belgium produced nearly 850,000 barrels of beer in 2018 and was the fourth-largest craft brewery in 2018, only trailing Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., Boston Beer Co., and the country’s #1 craft brewer D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc.

Kirin Holdings, which was already the fourth-largest brewery in the world with $17.5 billion in sales according to Statistica, gets even bigger/

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New Belgium co-founder Kim Jordan announced that the brewery would no longer be employee-owned, but said that the 300-plus employees would receive more than $100,000 of retirement money.

“Over the life of our ESOP, including this transaction, the total amount paid to current and former employees will be nearly $190 million,” Jordan told employees in a corporate letter. “We will have helped a significant number of people realize the upside of having equity in something, being a part of the American Dream!”

“Little World is committed to strategies to broadly share the wealth going forward, like profit sharing, best-in-class healthcare, and a generous family leave policy,” Jordan wrote. “We are as committed to being a vibrant, values-driven enterprise as we’ve ever been, and we look forward to having a beer with all of you along the journey!”

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Jordan, who co-founded New Belgium in 1991 with Jeff Lebesch, revealed why management wanted to sell the company to Lion Little World Beverages.

“Some of the most widely used options by craft brewers were going to compromise a lot about what makes New Belgium great; environmental sustainability, and a rich internal culture,” Jordan explained. “Some of these were going to lead to cost-cutting or a lack of focus on sustainability. Having the support and resources of Lion Little World Beverages, allows us to attend to those competing priorities and utilize our brewery capacity to its fullest.”

“Our owner, Kirin, has entrusted Lion with leading its global craft-beer strategy, and today’s announcement is a real milestone for us,” Matt Tapper, managing director of Lion Little World Beverages, said in an announcement. “Over time, we see a great opportunity to work together with New Belgium Brewing to grow a wider portfolio of craft beverages in the U.S.”

Kirin currently owns 24.5% of Brooklyn Brewery, America’s 12th-largest craft brewery.

The deal comes right after another marquee craft beer acquisition by big beer. Last week, Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased Portland-based Craft Brew Alliance outright, which owns Hawaii’s Kona and Seattle’s Red Hook.

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