Karbach Acquired

Houston craft brewer gobbled up by beer giant but vows to stay independent

Houston craft brewer acquired by beer giant, vows to stay independent

pint glasses Karbach Brewing Co. beer
Karbach Brewing has a new owner. Photo courtesy of Easy Tiger/Facebook

The wave of acquisitions that has swept the craft beer industry reached Houston Thursday morning. International brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev announced it has purchased popular Houston brewery Karbach Brewing Co. for an undisclosed sum.

Karbach will join ABInBev's The High End portfolio of craft and import brands, which includes Goose Island, Elysian, 10 Barrel, and others. The company plans to grow Karbach from its current production levels of 50,000 barrels in 2015 to 150,000 barrels per year by 2019. 

As one of the leading companies in Houston's craft beer scene, Karbach has seen explosive growth since it opened five years ago. Last year, the brewery completed a massive expansion that allowed it to expand to Dallas and Ft. Worth. The new facility also included a restaurant and beer garden. 

"We are so grateful for the growth we’ve experienced in this first phase of Karbach, but we have maxed out our growth potential on our own, and a partnership with The High End will open doors to keep innovating and experimenting with our unique styles and continue to expand," said co-founder Chuck Robertson in a statement. "While we are joining a talented and innovative group of craft breweries in The High End, Karbach will retain a high level of independence, and the existing management and brewing teams will continue to drive culture and strategy, all while having fun building our brands."

While Robertson and co-founder Ken Goodman have expressed enthusiasm about the deal, the reaction from the local craft beer community has been mixed. Comments on Karbach's Facebook announcement are both pro and con. Writing for the Houston Beer Guide, the local blog that was first to report the story, Nathan Miller expresses the concerns of many people who fear what these acquisitions mean for the future of craft beer. 

"While many drinkers view such acquisitions with a 'meh' attitude, the realities of the destruction caused by ABI’s purchases are real," Miller writes. "There should be no doubt that ABI’s desire to own all beer production globally represents an anti-competitive and dangerous goal. There are countless examples . . . of ABI using its influence to stagnate the growth of craft, including by buying distributors or leveraging their influence with distributors to hurt craft, by influencing legislation or, through their acquisitions and subsequent price-cutting or pay-for-play, by a 'Trojan horse' strategy of acquiring more shelf space and a greater number of tap lines."

Kevin Floyd, co-owner of craft beer bar The Hay Merchant, expressed similar sentiments on Facebook. "It's a sad day. I wish I could say I was surprised....but I'm not," he writes. Beginning today, Hay Merchant will run a special to divest itself of all Karbach currently on-site by selling it a rock bottom prices. 

Could Saint Arnold be next? Don't count on it. Back in February, founder and head brewer Brock Wagner told CultureMap that he would only sell the company for a billion dollars.