A question that faces an older generation of American microbrewing pioneers: When to retire... and what to do with this brewery when I do?
A couple of announcements from legacy breweries in the past few days illustrate different answers.
Carol Stoudt, who claimed the honor of being the first American woman brewmaster since Prohibition, founded Stoudts Brewing in 1987 in Adamstown, Pennsylvania. She announced her retirement on Monday, saying that the brewery would close its doors. “I did my part,” she says in the announcement. “Now it is up to the new generation to continue the tradition of innovation that defines craft beer.”
The brewery says that production will begin to scale down immediately and cease by early spring. But is that the end for the Stoudts brand? Notably, Stoudt says she doesn’t rule out the possibility that it could survive by other means.
“This was a difficult decision to make, but we’re not moving enough volume to justify the expense of keeping the brewery open,” Stoudt says. “However, we’re not closing the doors to any business opportunities that could help the Stoudts brand live on.”
Meanwhile, in Glendale, Wisconsin, the founder and CEO of Sprecher Brewing announced on January 31 that he had sold his brewery to “local fans”—i.e. a group of Milwaukee-based investors.
Randy Sprecher founded Milwaukee’s “first craft brewery since Prohibition” in 1985. While he is stepping down from running the brewery day to day, he will continue as an investor with the new group.
The new CEO is Sharad Chadha, a former executive of GE Healthcare, Samsung Electronics, ABB, and Electrolux. He says they plan to grow the brand into a “national icon.”
“Much like Milwaukee, Sprecher Brewery is a little-known gem with a great future ahead of it,” Chadha says in the news release. “Sprecher not only has a diverse portfolio—craft beer, soda, cider, hard seltzer, and sparkling water—it also has the best tasting products in the industry. We want to capitalize on what Randy built and share these amazing beverages with as many people as possible. Sprecher Root Beer is a craft beverage icon, and we have the potential to significantly grow the company.”
In Missouri, another retirement led to an opportunity for the Saint Louis Brewery, better known as Schlafly Beer. The 25-year-old Trailhead brewpub in nearby St. Charles was looking at likely closure as its owner Bob Kirkwood looked to retire. Instead, he called Schlafly first. Next month, Trailhead will reopen as Schlafly Bankside—the company’s third brewery, after its original location downtown and the Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood.
“When considering the possibility of selling Trailhead Brewing Company, my partners and I felt that it was important to find a suitable buyer that would continue to brew quality beer, contribute the same positive experience to the customer, and value the current staff,” Kirkwood says in an announcement about the sale. “With these requirements in mind combined with Schlafly’s respected reputation within the brewing and hospitality industries in the St. Louis metro area, we found a perfect fit.”