Stone Brewing Sells to Sapporo in Another Massive Craft Beer Shakeup

Stone recently made headlines battling Keystone Light and "big beer." Now they're joining its ranks.

Cans of various beers from Stone Brewing and Sapporo USA
Photo: Courtesy of Stone Brewing

Founded in 1996 during the prime of craft brewing's first great expansion, Stone Brewing has long been one of America's most outspoken independent brewers. These are the folks that built their reputation with a beer called Arrogant Bastard — and they didn't shy from having a similar public persona. In their recent battle against Keystone Light, co-founder Greg Koch put himself front and center in videos deriding his big beer competition. And in 2016, the company launched a program intended to help smaller craft breweries not sell out.

But in an era of aging ownership, economic uncertainty, increased competition, and continued consolidation within the American brewing industry, big beer has finally come for Stone as well. The company is bring sold to Japanese beer giant Sapporo.

"This is the right next chapter for Stone Brewing," Koch, who also now holds the title of executive chairman for Stone, stated. "For 26 years, our amazing team has worked tirelessly to brew beers that have set trends and redefined expectations. To have the interest of a company like Sapporo in continuing the Stone story is a testament to the great beers we've created and will continue to create for our fans across the globe."  

As is typically the case for these kinds of corporate deals, Stone played up the positives of the acquisition which is expected to close next month. The announcement proclaims that the deal "brings together the complementary strengths of Japanese artistry and innovation with the American craft brewing tradition in a fusion of cultures" with Stone also gaining "the resources of the largest Asian beer brand in America and its commitment to preserve Stone's legacy, culture and innovative approach to craft brewing."

More importantly, for those currently employed by Stone — which is America's 18th largest brewing company by sales according to the Brewers Association — the two companies announced that Stone Brewing will continue to operate its two breweries (in California and Virginia) and seven taprooms and restaurants with the existing management, and workforce.

Additionally, the acquisition could potentially open up more brewing work as Sapporo says they are planning to produce Sapporo-branded beers for U.S. distribution in Stone's facilities — as many as 360,000 barrels by the end of 2024 — which they say "will essentially double Stone Brewing's current production."

"We approached Stone Brewing seeking a partner for our growth plans in the U.S, and we quickly recognized they were an ideal partner with bi-coastal brewing capacity, loyal fans, superb management, shared cultural values, and commitment to the highest quality standards," Kenny Sadai, the chairman for Sapporo U.S.A., stated. "This acquisition puts the resources and legacy of the largest Asian beer brand in America together with one of the most innovative and recognized craft beer brands in the world. It's a perfect fusion of east meets west that is an ideal marriage for Sapporo's long-term growth strategy in the U.S."

Worth noting, however, is that this is actually Sapporo's second major craft beer acquisition in the U.S.: They purchased the Anchor Brewing Company — one of America's earliest craft brewers — back in 2017.

Meanwhile, Stone's legacy of commitment to independent breweries apparently won't totally be lost: The two companies say that the Stone Distributing Company which, as the name implies, handles distribution for 42 craft breweries, is not part of the sale. Instead, it will be spun off into an independent company. It means Stone will continue to work with craft brands, it just will no longer be one of them.

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