Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Long Trail to Purchase Otter Creek

Word on the street is that Long Trail Brewing Company of Bridgewater, Vermont will be purchasing Otter Creek Brewing Company, which is located in Middlebury, Vermont. Otter Creek also brews the organic Wolaver's line of beers. No word yet on how things are going to shake out in terms of all brands staying in the market, movement of production or closure of any facilities. Otter Creek would not confirm or deny the sale, saying only that they "have no meaningful information regarding this," and a Long Trail rep basically gave the same answer when I placed a call there to find out more. Read a bit more about craft brewery consolidation here at Andy Crouch's site as he is also reporting the news. Thanks to Keith Giberson for the news tip and stay tuned for an eventual press release...

2009-11-25 UPDATE: For what it’s worth, here’s my gut reaction to the sale: I don’t have a problem with the decision for either party, provided Long Trail keeps the Otter Creek and Wolaver’s brands in the marketplace. I sincerely hope this isn’t Harpoon/Catamount redux where Harpoon talked a big game about respecting the Catamount brand and products and how they were going to continue on with them in the marketplace, yet when push came to shove, Catamount was left to die after a brief mini-revival.

Keeping Wolaver’s alive is a no-brainer to me. While still holding a small piece of the pie, organic food and beverage is a growing segment for sure and Wolaver’s has been the leader in organic beer for about a dozen years now, especially in New England and much of the rest of the East Coast. Shutting the brand down would be a crushing blow to the organic beer market as a whole.

As for Long Trail and Otter Creek, clearly there’s going to have to be a bit of consolidation of portfolios, yet if you look at what each offers, there really isn’t a huge amount of crossover in terms of competition within the same style. From that perspective, I think this merger is a near perfect fit. The big one to look at right away would be the two flagships beers, Long Trail Ale and Copper Ale from Otter Creek, as both are Altbiers. In the end, the company that is making the acquisition usually does and likely should win out when it comes to cutting something from either the acquired company or their own, so if one is eliminated I’d expect it to be the Copper Ale.

Other than that, there really aren't many spots where they're brewing the same thing: Long Trail has an IPA, fruit/wheat beer and a beefed up Altbier rounding out their year round beers while Otter Creek offers up a Pale Ale, Porter and Euro-style Lager. It’s a witbier, Scottish Ale and Amber Ale for Long Trail seasonals versus Kolsch, Pale Wheat, Amber Ale and Brown Ale seasonals from Otter Creek. Sure. autumn is a bit of a hiccup with Long Trail Harvest Ale and Otter Creek’s Oktoberfest and the Belgian White and Otter Summer are fairly similar, but overall brewery vs. brewery you’d be hard pressed to put two together and have as few internal competition issues as you see on the surface here.

The “Big Beer” Series is a bit stickier, and although they’ve also been surprisingly different thus far, I’d expect one of them to be dropped at some point.

As details emerge we’ll all have a better understanding of where this is heading, but for now this seems to be a good match with any capacity increase Long Trail is looking for from this acquisition hopefully coming at the minimal expense of the Otter Creek line of beers.

2009-11-28 UPDATE: Per a post from Otter Creek Brewmaster Mike Gerhart that just went up on BeerAdvocate, it looks like the official announcement and details are coming this Monday morning, as he notes that "Long Trail and Otter Creek will be sharing some extremely great news." Gee, I wonder what it could be...

Hopback, beer, Long Trail, Otter Creek, Wolaver's, Organic, Vermont, sold