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Stone Sold—Now What?

Asia's number-one beer brand, Sapporo USA, bought Stone Brewing Company in a multi-million dollar deal
Stone Brewing Co.

By Beth Demmon



Stone Brewing Co.

On June 23, Stone Brewing Company announced that Sapporo U.S.A. would purchase the Escondido-based brewery in a multi-million dollar acquisition. Early reports approximate the price tag between $165 million and $168 million. Still, Stone’s director of public relations and communications says they are “unable” to confirm any financial details until the deal formally closes in August.

The deal notably does not include Stone Distributing Company, which will retain its current corporate structure and ownership. Stone CEO Maria Stipp says Stone’s distribution entity is not for sale or actively looking for buyers.

Still, this type of deal is a well-worn path. Big business-buys-smaller business in a seemingly mutually beneficial, nine-figure deal. Life goes on, capitalism lives to see another day.

What makes this one such big news is that—from the day he co-founded Stone with Steve Wagner in 1996—executive chairman Greg Koch repeatedly promised the “true independent craft” beer brand would never sell. What changed? A lot, according to Koch’s blog post explaining the decision to sell, as well as his decision to leave Stone entirely as part of this acquisition (he’d stepped down as CEO in 2015). His goodbye is a mix of changing perspective alongside the reality of building, running, and growing the United States’ ninth-largest craft brewery.

“I’ve run the calculus every which way (over and over in my head for years now),” he writes, “and this is the most pragmatic decision to ensure this beautiful thing I care so much about has a future.”

Stone Brewing Co., food

Stone Brewing Co., food

Stone Brewing Co.

In the end, does it matter? Terms like “craft” and “local” are already misused, misunderstood, and over-relied upon to the point of being useless indicators, and quality remains subjective. If someone liked Stone beer before Sapporo bought it, they’ll still be able to drink the same Stone beers after Sapporo buys it. And, Stipp insists, Stone’s cultural values will remain the same.

“We wouldn’t have decided to partner with Sapporo if we didn’t feel like Stone would continue to be Stone,” says Stipp. “Just because we happen to also get the opportunity to brew someone else’s beer and work on a different brand doesn’t make Stone any less Stone.”

If anything, it’ll mean more Stone. Once Sapporo officially takes the reins, they intend to scale up production at both Stone production facilities in Escondido and Richmond, Virginia, aiming to double output to 360,000 barrels by the end of 2024. Stipp says this likely means not only hiring more employees, but increasing opportunities for existing team members. Much—if not all—of this increased production will be of Sapporo-branded beers, but Stone will retain creative control over the existing Stone beers, including Stone IPA, Arrogant Bastard, and Ruination.

“It’s going to taste as awesome as it always has,” she promises. “I hope people will continue to trust that we are still Stone.”

As much as this may be the new beginning, it’s also the end of an era, especially in San Diego. Plenty of craft breweries continue to remain steadfast in their commitment to “never sell out.” As this deal proves, never say never.

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