Will Full Sail be the next Northwest brewery to get acquired?

The big white and red Budweiser truck pulls up in front of the brewery. This time, the truck’s refrigerator is turned off and the cargo is crisp, new $100 bills. Lots and lots and lots of them. The brewery workers hang their heads, shed a tear, and walk away from the brewery for the last time. The brewery owners do a happy dance and make plans to buy islands in the Caribbean.

A lot of beer lovers think that’s the way it looks when a big corporation takes over a craft brewery. I don’t know, maybe there’s more truth to that scenario than I’m imagining, but as we learned from the Anheuser-Busch takeover of Elysian Brewing, not all corporate acquisitions are so straightforward. Not all decisions are reached unanimously. When Anheuser-Busch goes shopping for a craft brewery, it’s messy business. This we’ve learned.

Now we learn that not all brewery takeovers are spearheaded by Anheuser-Busch. Apparently the beer behemoth is not the only big money player looking to grab a piece of the craft beer action.

Full Sail Brewing is owned by its employees—an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP). Right now, the owners are deciding the company’s future. There’s an offer on the table and the owners are voting to determine if they should accept it. We should know the answer very soon.

A company is looking to purchase Full Sail Brewing and it’s not Anheuser-Busch. In fact, it’s not a beer company at all. Instead, it’s a group calling themselves the Oregon Craft Brewers Co., which is comprised of Encore Consumer Capitol of San Francisco and some local Oregon investors.

Recently, Full Sail Brewing’s Founder & CEO Irene Firmat and Executive Brewmaster Jamie Emmerson, sent a letter to Full Sail Brewing’s 78 employee-owners advising them that the company had a suitor. Now, they are all voting to determine if they’ll accept the offer.

As much as beer lovers may despise Anheuser-Busch, at least that company’s background is related to beer. The company seeking to purchase Full Sail has no background in the brewing industry.

I’m not sure if that makes it better or worse.

Encore Investments has a record of buying companies and later selling them to larger corporate players in related industries. For instance, Encore invested in Aidell’s Sausage, which was later sold to Sara Lee; PhillySwirl, which was later sold to J&J Snack Foods; and so on. So exactly what do they have planned for Full Sail? Who knows? Maybe the owners’ vote will render the question moot.

Whatever Full Sail Brewing’s owners decide to do, at least we know it’s what the employees want. We should know the results of the vote any day now.

According to the Oregonian, which reported on the story recently, in a letter Firmat said, “We made the commitment to partner and share equity with our employees. With this transaction, our employee shareholders will have more financial security, and will continue to be stock option holders going forward. They will be able to pay for their children’s education, have a down payment for a house and have more financial peace of mind. That’s why we created the ESOP 16 years ago and that feels really good.

“This transaction is also a continuing commitment to our independence, our community and our employees. Our new partners share our values and their expertise with high growth consumer brands will provide a strong platform for our future. They appreciate that our 27 years has been made possible by our relationships with all our distributors, retailers and especially all our consumers.”

“This partnership ensures the value of our culture, our commitment to quality, our brands, and most importantly, our people. It strengthens Full Sail for the future in this highly competitive marketplace and enables us to honor our financial commitments to our employees and keep our company independent. We could not be more proud to deliver on the promise we made to our employees in 1999 while ensuring Full Sail will stay true to our core values in the future.

Firmat said if the deal is approved, 78 employees will receive cash in their 401(k) accounts, affirming the value of the ESOP ownership structure.

To be honest, I have no idea exactly what any of that means. But if I were one of the employee owners at Full Sail, I’d make damn sure I did.



  1. I thought I read a story about a week ago that said Full Sail and some equity investors were looking for a partnership, not an outright takeover. Has this changed?

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