Breweries sign with beer distributors to get their products into stores and across state lines, and contracts get signed and rarely broken. It’s difficult for a brewery to self-distribute as it grows, but like NBA franchises, distributors teams occasionally do trade or sell player (brewery) contracts. Thus is the case with a recent big deal that just went down between Portland’s two biggest beer distributors that has Columbia Distributing picking up the entire Duvel Moortgat portfolio–Duvel itself, La Chouffe, Ommegang Brewery, Boulevard Brewing and the re0cently acquired Firestone Walker Brewing–in exchange for Elysian Brewing and probably some cash. There is definitely some politics behind the moves, which hopefully portend more variety in Oregon’s future.
Duvel Moortgat–a Belgian company known for the empire built around the flagship Duvel brand of beer–purchased Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York in an early indication of brewery consolidation. Since Duvel was a respected import brand and not a macro brewer, few people were upset. In 2013 Duvel Moortgat purchased Boulevard Brewing out of Kansas City, MO, which had some people up in arms, but the controversy has largely died down and not much has changed. In July of 2015, Duvel Moortgat purchased a large part (how much is unknown) of Firestone Walker Brewing and again largely has escaped much backlash. Before the sale, Firestone Walker Brewing had begun pulling out of all of its distributors that were owned by or tied to Anheuser-Busch/Inbev, and the rumors were this was a backlash from an attempt by A-B/InBev to buy Firestone. But perhaps it was a pre-emptive move to work with Duvel Moortgat distributors ahead of the sale.
One of the only A-B/Inbev beer distributors that Firestone Walker was still with was Portland’s Maletis Beverage. Maletis distributes A-B/Inbev products but is independently owned and operated. Rumors are that A-B/InBev has been trying to purchase Maletis for years, but the owners refuse. A-B/InBev has successfully purchased two other Oregon beer distributors, Morgan Distributing (which services North Portland and up into the Gorge) and Western Beverage (which handles central Oregon and the Bend area) and folded them together.
Unless you’re living under a rock, you know that A-B/InBev purchased 10 Barrel Brewing in November 2014 and Elysian Brewing in January 2015. 10 Barrel was already distributed by Maletis and was involved in the sale of Western Beverage to A-B/InBev. Elysian Brewing was already signed to Oregon’s largest beer distributor, Columbia Distributing, before it was purchased. Elysian is also quite possibly the best selling out-of-state craft brewery in Oregon, and getting out of a deal with Columbia probably proved very difficult. Which is why it has taken until now. With this trade, A-B/InBev gets all of its brands in-house with the same beer distributor, and Duvel-Moortgat gets the same.
How will this affect things? I doubt it will affect Elysian Brewing much, but I am hoping to see a larger presence from Boulevard and Ommegang, which have seemed to fade away on Oregon shelves. Neither ceased distributing here, but we don’t see a lot of their products and there has been no real push since Boulevard eliminated its Oregon sales rep position over a year ago. Ommegang is incredibly underrated and many of its seasonals and limited releases have not been made available in Oregon, and barely any draft has. I am hoping to see a lot more beers from each of these breweries soon.