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Tuesday, Aug 30, 2016
Politics

Anheuser-Busch interested in buying Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing

— If you can’t beat ’em, buy’ em.

Despite its snarky Budweiser ad during the Super Bowl poking fun at craft beer, Anheuser-Busch has been steadily buying craft breweries around the country.

Could Tampa’s own Cigar City Brewing be next?

Founder and owner Joey Redner on Friday confirmed that the beer company’s representatives have reached out to him about buying his Tampa-based business.

Anheuser-Busch has a long history in the Tampa Bay area, having once operated a brewery and the Busch Gardens theme park here. The brewery closed in 1995, and the beer maker sold the park to investors in 2009.

“We have been approached about having a more in-depth meeting,” Redner said in an email, without getting into detail. “There hasn’t been a second meeting.”

An Anheuser-Busch spokesman declined comment, saying the company does not discuss its merger and acquisition strategy.

Acquiring Cigar City, founded in 2009, would be a coup for the 163-year-old Anheuser-Busch as its older, established brands fight for market share with upstarts in Florida and elsewhere.

Not that the big beer makers are necessarily hurting.

In 2013, craft beer held close to 8 percent of market share compared to domestic products — Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors among them — which held a whopping 78 percent share, according to the Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association.

Still, in 2013 alone, craft beer enjoyed a 17 percent increase in sales to $14 billion of the country’s $100 billion beer market, the association reported.

Florida’s craft brewers produced nearly 130,000 barrels and contributed $875 million in direct and indirect impact to the state’s economy, the report said.

Cigar City’s beers, including its “Jai Alai” India pale ale, have won awards and gained a national following.

Anheuser-Busch is the U.S. subsidiary of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world’s biggest brewer.

Its red-labeled “Bud” and Busch, the flagship labels, have lost cachet among the latest generation of beer drinkers.

The 60-second Super Bowl television commercial fought back, calling Budweiser a beer not to be “fussed over.”

As the text rolls across the screen, a man in glasses with a mustache sticks his nose into a snifter filled with craft beer.

Bud is “brewed for drinking, not dissecting,” the ad says.

The commercial struck craft beer aficionados as ironic. A week earlier, the company announced it had closed on Seattle’s craft beer maker Elysian Brewing for an undisclosed sum.

It has also gobbled up Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery and Blue Point Brewing Co. in Long Island, New York.

Craft beer insiders have said it was simply a matter of time before the “macro beer” Goliath set its sights on Florida, which now has more than 70 breweries operating or getting ready to open.

Other potential targets include Florida Beer Co. in Cape Canaveral, Due South Brewing in Boynton Beach and Intuition Ale Works in Jacksonville, according to brewers and business analysts.

Those companies produce enough beer and have been around long enough to have developed the brand loyalty that attracts buyers.

If Anheuser-Busch does come calling, “I’d be very flattered, but I have no interest in selling,” Intuition founder and owner Ben Davis told the Tribune.

“We’ve worked hard to make Intuition a great brand that I am proud of,” Davis said. “I don’t believe Anheuser-Busch would be able to continue that.”

More Florida breweries are opening, and others, including Intuition, are growing, said Josh Aubuchon, executive director of the Florida Brewers Guild, the state’s craft beer lobby.

“I jokingly say there are three types of brewers: The artisans, the businessmen and the guys that got together with their buddies and said, ‘Hey, let’s make some beer,’ ” he said.

“I think the artisans would never consider a sale because that’s ‘selling out,’ ” Aubuchon added. “The businessmen would look at it and consider it.”

The guys who just wanted to make beer could go either way, he said, but likely wouldn’t ever get big enough to be targets of anyone’s acquisition team.

Aubuchon agrees Anheuser-Busch “sees the market growth that’s happening in craft brewing, and they are interested in adding that to their portfolio,” he said. “I think they’re looking at the core brands and not seeing much room for growth.”

Meanwhile, Davis might put himself in that first set of beer makers.

“I don’t want to use the term ‘sell out,’ but let’s just say we’re too ‘punk rock’ to do that,” he said.

Redner is taking another approach: Anheuser-Busch seems “to have been very strategic, so I don’t think they would buy just any brewery,” he said.

As to its interest in his own craft beer juggernaut and those of others, he added, “I always figured it was inevitable so I am not surprised.”

 

jrosica@tampatrib.com

(850) 765-0807

Twitter: @jlrosicaTBO