So yeah, the Fullers buyout of Dark Star.
It's hard not to suspect that there will be more of this sort of thing to come, and Boak and Bailey have been pondering what you might want to look out for if you fancy playing "the prediction game." One of their conclusions is that
breweries rarely seem to sell up in the heady hype-phase — it’s during the come down that they’re vulnerable.
In fact, I'd say that there's something else interesting here from that angle. A couple of years ago, at the height of the US craft acquisition fever, I noticed that a lot of the breweries being bought out were founded at about the same time. And that in fact, that there seemed to be a fairly standard age for selling up - a few years either side of 20 - and that this applied to a lot of British real ale breweries, too: Bath Ales, for instance, and Sharps. Since Dark Star (founded 1994) seem to fit reasonably well into that pattern, I thought I'd actually get some data and see if it stacks up.
Methodology: this is clearly a selective list, but it's selective based on what I can remember / have heard of - I haven't consciously picked and chosen examples to fit my theory. I've stuck to full acquisitions, or at least controlling stakes, rather than including partial things. The only example that I've deliberately excluded as a special case was the Brooklyn / Carlsberg takeover of London Fields. I've also ignored breweries that I wouldn't consider "newish" - Courage, for instance, or Hardy and Hansons, because I don't think it'd add much to the data. I generally haven't been particularly careful about how I define founding dates, having mostly gone with the first thing that I found on the web.
So here are the numbers:
|Brewery||Years Independent||Age When Sold|
|Camden||2010 - 2015||5|
|Wicked Weed||2012 - 2017||5|
|10 Barrel||2006 - 2014||8|
|Meantime||2000 - 2015||15|
|Sharps||1994 - 2011||17|
|Wychwood||1983 - 2002||19|
|Ballast Point||1996 - 2015||19|
|Elysian||1996 - 2015||19|
|Firestone Walker||1996 - 2015||19|
|Bath Ales||1995 - 2016||21|
|Lagunitas||1993 - 2015||22|
|Goose Island||1988 - 2011||23|
|Dark Star||1994 - 2018||24|
|Boulevard||1989 - 2013||24|
|Achouffe||1982 - 2006||24|
|Ringwood||1978 - 2007||29|
Make of that what you will.
Update: okay, here's one interpretation. With a few exceptions, people don't generally open breweries to get rich, they do it because it's fun and interesting. For the ones that are lucky enough to create a large and successful business the fun and interesting element keeps going for a while, but fifteen years down the line it starts to get samey. At this point "would you like to exchange personal control for a large amount of money (and maybe the opportunity to focus more on the parts of the business that you find interesting while we pay for some suits to handle the boring stuff)" seems like a more attractive offer than it did before.