Imagine you owned a business in an up and coming industry. You build this business in a geographic area with little competition, leading you to become king of your neighborhood quickly. You start picking up regional acclaim and national notice, resulting in people coming from all corners of the country to buy your products. Name recognition and the accompanying demand and buzz put you in the top 10% of companies in your market.
You’ve had interest from buyers, but you swear you will never sell. And then, one day, someone backs up the vault and makes an offer you cannot possibly refuse. Would you do it?
Of course you would. Admit it. All of those years of hard work building your business from the ground up, establishing your name, building a following, and then someone validates all of that by offering you more money than you could ever hope to make. You would scour your desk for a pen to sign that contract.
At the very least, you would think about it.
You would scour your desk for a pen to sign that contract.”
In March 2016, a bombshell shot out from Tampa on Interstates 4 and 75, and into the mash tuns of breweries across the country, when Cigar City Brewing announced that it would take $60 million in private equity cash and join the corporate portfolio that holds Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery.
Founder Joey Redner, who opened the brewery’s doors in 2007, got to pay back his father and business partner for his original investment (and then some). The son remained in charge of Cigar City. His share of the business got rolled up into the rest of the parent company, where he became an equity partner of United Craft Brewers LLC, owned by Fireman Capital Partners of Boston.
Up until March 2016, it was long believed that Redner would sell to craft brewing antichrist AB-InBev, but the monolith never got a formal offer together during its exclusive negotiating period.
Brewers that sell out often catch a wrath of hell from the craft beer community. Ballast Point, Goose Island, Magic Hat, Terrapin...all carry the mark of sin since making the corporate decision to act on a very human impulse. Brewery Ommegang, Firestone Walker and Founders are not immune, but certainly have not incurred the intense fires of hate as the others.
In some cases, the sales have been seen as good things. Ommegang and Firestone Walker were purchased by Duvel Moortgat, a large Belgian conglomerate that has nurtured its craft portfolio as opposed to mocking it.
The best we can hope for with Cigar City is that model, where ownership doesn’t tinker with ingredients or formulas, allowing the brewer to innovate and grow without compromise. Thus far, that seems to be the plan. It has been nearly a year since the merger and there has been no discernable change in its Jai Alai IPA, Cigar City’s most widely available label. It is not explosively hoppy or a Northeast-style juice bomb, but a very good India pale ale that comes from a state with few nationally-dsitributed breweries.
Snap open a can and grab a whiff.”
Snap open a can and grab a whiff. It’s a classic IPA with notes of citrus and resin. Pour it into your vessel of choice and the copper ale leaves behind a finger-wide layer of foam at the top with a nice stream of carbonation streaming from the bottom.
Jai Alai is a traditional East Coast IPA. Candied orange and tropical fruit flavors present themselves at the first sip, before settling into sweet caramel malts for balance. Bitter hops (it has a 75 IBU rating) round things out at the end. It’s a medium-bodied, medium weight beer that is very smooth and with a creamy mouthfeel. As to the warmth you feel while drinking it, well, that is a combination of carbonation and the 7.5% Alcohol by Volume.
So, what will become of Cigar City? It’s still too early to tell, but Redner indicated that capacity was a consideration in making the deal.
How do you increase production? When you are part of a new company, you have options. In January 2017, corporate sister Perrin Brewing in Grand Rapids, Mich. produced a batch of Jai Alai IPA under Cigar City’s supervision. The press release announced this as a one-time endeavor, but it feels like a trial balloon especially when you consider that Oskar Blues, which also cans its beers, has brewhouses in Austin, Texas, Brevard, N.C., and Longmont, Colo. It seems like the perfect network for a national rollout.
Until then, you have to live in or visit one of the seven states in Cigar City’s distribution network to get a can of Jai Alai IPA. Try to find one before it becomes uncool to drink.
Cigar City is dead. Long live Cigar City.