The Brewer Who Would “Never Sell Out” Sells to Sapporo

Japanese beermaker Sapporo announced that is purchasing Stone Brewing, one of the most influential and vocally independent U.S. craft brewers of the past few decades.

Brewing Industry Guide Staff Jun 24, 2022 - 3 min read

The Brewer Who Would “Never Sell Out” Sells to Sapporo Primary Image

Sapporo is buying Stone, according to a late Thursday announcement from the U.S. division of the Japanese beer giant and the San Diego brewery.

Founded in 1996 by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner, Stone Brewing has been one of the most influential craft U.S. breweries of the past few decades. It also was the ninth-largest craft brewer by production in 2021, according to the Brewers Association rankings. Stone’s provocatively “arrogant” brand and Koch’s knack for attracting publicity have been as much a part of its image as its characterful beers. That image always included a claim to fierce independence, with Koch saying on multiple occasions that he would “never sell out.”

“Until now,” he says in a blog post titled, “It’s Time,” published Friday to time with the sale announcement. In the post, Koch says that he’s leaving the company, and he also argues that craft beer has boomed and, essentially, that its “revolution” is won.

“It’s humbling to sit here and realize all of my dreams have either been met or far exceeded,” Koch writes. “In 1996 I dreamed of a world where people had better options, and lots of them. But I never dared to dream there would be nearly 10,000 breweries in the U.S. Stone was around the 850th—not the first by any means, but the room was a little echoey when we got here.”

The breweries’ announcement says that they expect to close the deal in August and that it would support both companies’ long-term growth strategies. Sapporo says it will begin brewing its flagship lager in the Stone breweries in Escondido, California, and Richmond, Virginia. The announcement also promises a “commitment to preserve Stone’s legacy, culture, and innovative approach to craft brewing.”

By investing in capacity, Sapporo plans to increase production at the two Stone breweries to 360,000 barrels a year by the end of 2024, doubling Stone’s current production.

“This is the right next chapter for Stone Brewing,” Koch says in the news release. “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.”

Sapporo also acquired Anchor Brewing in 2017. The announcement said that the Stone deal would not affect operations at Anchor.