Saint Archer bought by Miller / Coors
MillerCoors, one of the world’s largest brewing companies, announced Thursday plans to buy a controlling share of San Diego’s Saint Archer Brewery.
The sale, expected to close within 30 days, is a milestone in the local craft beer industry: The first time an international corporation has bought a local brewery.
“This was about partnering with someone who can help us keep growing and brewing more great beer,” said Josh Landan, Saint Archer’s co-founder and president. “From the start, our number one goal was to get Saint Archer to the most people possible.”
The sale price was not revealed, although Landan said that Saint Archer’s employees and investors will have equity in the new venture. The entire staff of roughly 50 people, including a brewing team led by Kim Lutz and Yiga Miyashiro, will remain intact.
“All the beers are going to stay the same,” Landan said. “It’s really business as usual.”
Yet the deal represents a significant change to the local beer marketplace. Now in its third year, Saint Archer is a mid-sized operation that will sell an estimated 35,000 barrels of beer this year — far behind Stone and Ballast Point, the county’s largest breweries, each of which is poised to sell about 300,000 barrels in 2015.
Yet MillerCoors’ craft beer division, Tenth and Blake, has ambitious plans for Saint Archer.
“With this brand, Josh has aspirations to take it beyond California and to be a national brand,” said Scott Whitley, president of Tenth and Blake. “We think it has that potential, and we want to do it.”
Unlike many founders of San Diego breweries, Landan is not a homebrewer. The Sacramento native is a filmmaker whose documentaries — “Flow,” “Against the Grain,” “Me Myself and I” — focus on snowboarders and surfers. He was living in Ventura when drinking sessions with friends inspired the creation of Saint Archer.
“Craft beer is the one thing that brings everyone together,” said Landan, 36. “It sounded like a ton of fun.”
Backed by a group of investors that included skateboarders, snowboarders and surfers, Landed rented space in an industrial park, hired a staff and began selling beer. While its marketing campaigns stress athletics, Saint Archer has had some success with beer geeks. Its White Ale won a gold medal at last year’s Great American Beer Festival, and the brewery left this summer’s San Diego International Beer Festival with four medals.
Calling this a “lifestyle brand” is “unfair to the beer,” Whitley said. “There’s a terrific crowd of people who are loyal to the brand, but the beer is terrific.”
Yet the brand’s high-profile “beer ambassadors,” including professional athletes and musicians, alienated some in the local brewing fraternity.
“It seemed like they were using their semi-celebrity status to cash in as the hot brand,” said Tom Nickel, owner of O’Brien’s Pub in Kearny Mesa and Nickel Beer in Julian.
“There are a number of brands that have been trying to help further the legacy of San Diego’s making great beers. I wouldn’t put Saint Archer in that fold.”
By selling to MillerCoors, moreover, Saint Archer enters the “craft vs. crafty” debate, where purists scorn breweries acquired by conglomerates. The Brew Project, a local beer bar, used its Twitter account to slam the news: “Shameful day in the San Diego craft brewing community.”
In fact, response on social media has ranged from scathing to approving to awesomely weird: