In a significant shakeup to the U.S. craft beer scene, this morning gives us the massive but perhaps not surprising news that the CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective will be entirely acquired by energy drink manufacturer Monster Beverage Corp for a deal worth approximately $330 million. This deal includes everything in the CANarchy portfolio, including crown jewels Cigar City Brewing and Oskar Blues, along with Deep Ellum Brewing Co., Perrin Brewing, Squatters Brewery and Wasatch Brewery. The assortment of nationally distributed breweries will give Monster Beverage its first big foothold in the alcoholic beverage industry, following recent investment by companies such as Coca-Cola, which is working with Constellation Brands to launch a canned cocktail version of FRESCA.
Monster Beverage Co. has made the usual, expected statements and assurances to mitigate any craft beer geek blowback to the acquisition, although one wonders if anyone is still really keeping track of ownership of these brands, given how gray and confusing the beer scene has become in recent years. We’ve long since moved to arguing that the terms “craft brewer” and craft beer have become effectively meaningless in terms of being applied with any value or consistency, and the statistics offered on a yearly basis by the Colorado-based Brewers Association have likewise become muddled and indecipherable thanks to the fact that many of the largest “crafty” breweries in the country no longer qualify under the BA definition of “craft brewer,” which has also been changed several times. This acquisition of the CANarchy breweries should make them no longer qualify under the BA’s definition, as they’ll now be owned by a non-brewer—which means that the 6th largest “craft brewer” in the U.S. by volume will no longer have its production counted toward the BA’s yearly statistics.
Edit: The Brewers Association has clarified that technically, following the acquisition, “CANarchy meets the Brewers Association’s craft brewer definition under the ownership of Monster Energy as presently constituted.” It remains a craft brewer in their eyes primarily because “in this instance, Monster is not a beverage alcohol industry member.” Industry observers are anticipating Monster Beverage to likely launch its own variation on “Monster Hard Seltzer” at some point in the future, but because hard seltzer is primarily produced with alcohol from malt fermentation, this would technically make Monster Beverage a “craft brewer” as well, at least until it surpassed the 6 million barrel limit that the Brewers Association defines as “small.”
From the beginning, many beer geeks accused the idea of CANarchy as a “craft brewery collective” of being nothing more than clever marketing lingo on the part of the ownership at Fireman Capital Partners. It was always assumed by the cynical beer industry observer that Fireman Capital was assembling a portfolio of breweries that could eventually be sold to the highest bidder, and now those people will no doubt feel vindicated. Monster Beverage said the transaction should be complete during the first calendar quarter, and that CANarchy will “function independently, retaining its own organizational structure and team.”
It’s difficult to say how the CANarchy breweries have been faring during the back half of the pandemic, as detailed 2021 statistics aren’t really available yet, but there is perhaps some indication that this has been a difficult time for the “collective.” The company’s downtown Asheville, NC taproom, designed a showroom for all the CANarchy brands, shut down early in the pandemic and never reopened even when other Asheville breweries returned to operation. And meanwhile, the well-liked Three Weavers Brewing actually pulled out of CANarchy ownership in July of 2021, as original founder Lynne Weaver reached a deal with the company to buy back her brewery after initially selling to CANarchy in 2018. It’s hard not to assume that some seller’s remorse must have been present.
Regardless, the acquisition will make little difference to the availability of nationwide shelf staples from the likes of Oskar Blues and Cigar City—it will only add yet another shade of gray to the “who should I really be supporting with my dollars?” question that has increasingly become so complicated that one can hardly expect beer drinkers to even ask it. As a final note, let’s reflect on how much the craft beer industry has changed since 2015, when Constellation Brands spent an insane, unthinkable $1 billion in their acquisition of Ballast Point, only to sell it for a fraction of that price in 2019 to an almost complete unknown. Now, in 2022, this “collective” of six sizeable breweries goes for only a third of that original Ballast Point price tag—just another indication that the craft beer market has effectively matured and moved into its adulthood, rather than its boom years.
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.