Anheuser-Busch snaps up North Carolina craft brewer
SHEVILLE, N.C. — Brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev announced Wednesday it will purchase Wicked Weed Brewing, with the innovative brewery joining The High End, a business unit focused on craft and import brands.
The High End, established in 2015, includes brands such as Stella Artois and Shock Top, along with craft partners Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel, Elysian, Golden Road, Virtue Cider, Four Peaks, Breckenridge Brewery, Devils Backbone, SpikedSeltzer and Karbach Brewing Co.
Megan Lagesse, communications manager for High End, confirmed that Anheuser-Busch InBev will be buying Asheville, N.C.-based Wicked Weed outright.
In 2016, the acquisitions of craft breweries slowed growth for smaller, independent brewers.
Related: Big beer acquisitions slows craft beer growth
Craft brewers sold $23.5 billion in 2016, according to Brewers Association statistics released in March. That was 21.9% of the $107 billion U.S. beer market.
The loss of craft breweries acquired by major beer makers such as Anheuser-Busch resulted in 1.2 million fewer barrels in the craft beer segment, the association said.
Wicked Weed, founded in Asheville in 2012 by Walt and Luke Dickinson and Ryan, Rick and Denise Guthy, has created more than 500 different beers since it opened almost five years ago. The owners said Wednesdaythey anticipated the 1,000-beer mark might be coming relatively quickly.
But they said not to expect major changes at the brewery.
"Nothing's going to change," said Walt Dickinson, head blender and co-founder of Wicked Weed. "We're just looking forward to doing more of the things people love us for."
“We believe that Wicked Weed is reinventing what craft beer can mean for consumers. It's really taking craft beer to the next level. We should maintain the magic.”
Felipe Szpigel, president of The High End
The brewery is known for labels including Pernicious IPA, Lunatic Belgian Blonde and, increasingly, its portfolio of barrel-aged sour and farmhouse ales.
Dickinson asserted that the brewery would continue to retain a large measure of autonomy when the sale to the beverage giant is finalized.
"That was probably the most key part of that decision," he said, noting that there was interest from other potential partners. "This to us was a decision we made to move the company forward, because we thought it would be the best thing for the people and the brand."
He emphasized that the purchase would not affect Wicked Weed's creative freedom, and would help the brewery take its ideas "to the next level."
Related: Battle between big beer and craft beer escalates
"This brand's all about pushing the limits and innovation, and I think we've kind of blown the doors open, as far as how many brands you can actually produce and get it to the market successfully," he said.
Co-owner Ryan Guthy, who also heads up the brewery's sales, said that while the brand's distribution footprint will expand, brand imaging is not likely to change, with in-house artists and label-creation teams still working to create Wicked Weed's whimsical packaging.
"I think what brought us together are the amazing things these founders and their team have accomplished so far," said Felipe Szpigel, president of The High End division. "It's such a great connection to the Asheville community."
He said his company's key objective was to amplify, not water down, independent breweries such as Wicked Weed.
"We believe that Wicked Weed is reinventing what craft beer can mean for consumers," he said. "It's really taking craft beer to the next level. We should maintain the magic."
Related: Anheuser-Busch increases its craft beer roster
Szpigel said the acquisition represented an acknowledgment that consumers' tastes were changing and expanding, and helped round out the company's portfolio. He said The High End works to acquire breweries with certain standards of innovation.
“This to us was a decision we made to move the company forward, because we thought it would be the best thing for the people and the brand.”
Walt Dickinson, Wicked Weed head blender and co-founder
He nodded specifically to Goose Island Brewery, an Anheuser-Busch InBev acquisition with a renowned barrel-aging program. "Adding Wicked Weed, with their focus on their barrel-aged and sour program, we don't have anyone in our family that has that as an ingrained part of their objective and vision," he said.
Walt Dickinson said he has mentors in this industry whose breweries also have been acquired by The High End group. In 2014, Anheuser-Busch purchased Bend, Ore.-based 10 Barrel Brewing Co. That brewery has since expanded its distribution footprint, hired on more staff and expanded its facilities.
"I think everyone out there needs to understand that we're still an Asheville brewery, we're still founders who are from Asheville and are going to be there every day," he continued. "The majority of our employees are from Asheville or moved here and are creating families here. We're not going anywhere."
Luke Dickinson said Asheville residents should not expect to see any changes at any of the brewery's facilities.
Nick, left, and Walt Dickinson, owners and brewers
Nick, left, and Walt Dickinson, owners and brewers of Wicked Weed, stand in front of barrels inside their Funkatorium in Asheville, N.C., in 2014. (Photo: Asheville (N.C.) Citizen-Times)
Wicked Weed Brewing owns and operates four facilities in Asheville: the original downtown brewpub where they produce more than 150 different beers a year; the “Funkatorium,” the first dedicated sour beer taproom and barrel house on the East Coast; a 50-barrel production brewery in West Asheville, and the “Funk House and company headquarters,” a custom-designed brewhouse and training facility.
"We offer 30-plus beers of Wicked Weed-only beers on tap at the (flagship) brewpub," Luke Dickinson said. "None of that will change. All of the beer still will get brewed there, it will all still be Wicked Weed beer, and the same for the Funkatorium."
Anheuser-Busch's partnership with Wicked Weed is subject to regulatory approval. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Among the major craft brewer acquisitions in 2016 were Anheuser-Busch's purchase of Virginia's Devils Backbone Brewing Co. and MillerCoors' Tenth and Blake division's acquisition of a majority stake in Terrapin Beer Co., of Athens, Ga.
Contributing: Mike Snider, USA TODAY. Follow Mackensy Lunsford on Twitter: @mackensy