What’s on tap for future of craft brews as beer giants join forces

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 6:11 PM EDT
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WINDSOR, Vt. (WCAX) - Two very well-known craft beer companies with strong ties to Vermont are coming together under one roof. And it comes at a time when the industry is experiencing rapid changes.

“I love beer,” said Ben Stehle of Exeter, New Hampshire.

Stehle and his family stopped by the Long Trail Brewery in Bridgewater Wednesday for some lunch. Stehle has been drinking the craft brew since college. Though, these days, he has a lot more options.

“You can go into the store pretty much every day of the week and pick out something new from within 100 miles and nine times out of ten, it’s delicious,” Stehle said.

Changes are coming to Long Trail. The company, which includes Otter Creek and Shed, is being bought by the Mass. Bay Brewing Company which is the parent company of Harpoon and a growing list of other brands.

“No one has been at it longer than me in New England Brewing craft beer,” said Dan Kenary, Mass Bay’s co-founder and CEO.

Harpoon has been making beer in Windsor for more than two decades. Kenary says the acquisition of Long Trail started as a discussion about ways to be more efficient.

“We do have a lot of overlap, so from production side, sales side, staffing, marketing, geographic-- it just made a lot of sense,” Kenary said.

Over the last 10 to 15 years, the craft beer industry has experienced an explosion in growth. Now, there are more than 9,000 nationwide.

“There is a huge amount of pressure on those craft breweries that are in that mid-tier size,” said Jeff Baker, a craft beer expert who co-authored a book about the history of brewing in Burlington.

Baker says market share for any company can decrease every time a new craft beer brewery opens up shop.

“It makes sense to me that these legacy brands would kind of want to team up and protect what they built,” Baker said.

Kenary acknowledges that competition is out there, but says it’s nothing new.

“It is a very very competitive landscape. It always has been,” he said. “The early days, when we were the only guys around and we were battling the big international industrial brewers, that was really hard, too.”

Kenary says the increased interest in craft beer is good for the industry as a whole. He also says the acquisition will have no production interruptions for Long Trail brands-- good news for loyal customers.

“They don’t carry as much in my part of New Hampshire but I definitely get a Double Bag,” Stehle said.

And there is a third player in the acquisition. WhistlePig Whiskey out of Shoreham will be taking over the Otter Creek and Shed Brewery in Middlebury. The exact price tag of the deal is not being disclosed.

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