One Distributor to Sell Them All: Clare Rose Incorporated Begins Distributing Port Jeff Brewing

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They Said Yes!
Get ready for a local favorite to become more widely available. Clare Rose Incorporated has scored themselves the distribution rights for another Long Island craft brewery, Port Jeff Brewing Company. This “marriage” of brewery and distributer begins today, November 3rd 2014. Clare Rose Inc. (CRI) supplies both counties on Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk, and with Port Jeff Brewing Company (PJBC) in the fold they now hold the rights to most of the elder breweries on Long Island.

Clare Rose Inc. had humble beginnings. The company was founded in 1936 as a small soda distribution business by Clare and Millie Rose. The corporation grew out of eastern Suffolk county NY, Patchouge to be specific. They have evolved into, “Long Island’s premier supplier of Anheuser-Busch InBev and Heineken USA” according to their official website. They have been going strong for 75 years.

In recent years CRI has expanded the scope of their distribution to include craft beer. Craft Corner is the moniker for this new, fluid and growing division. A quote taken from their website states, “Clare Rose Inc. is committed to the growing craft beer segment. We always look to pursue new avenues of growth to expand our craft portfolio and bring the best of the craft beer world to Long Island”. A bold statement.

The “Craft Corner” portion of the CRI portfolio consists of national and local craft brands. Two of the larger in their stable are both owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABInbev), a Belgian-Brazilian multinational beverage and brewing company headquartered in Leuven, Belgium. ABInbev acquired Goose Island Brewery (legally Fulton Street Brewery LLC) in March of 2011. The other is the recently purchased Long Island craft beer institution, Blue Point Brewing Company (for our thoughts on the sale of Blue Point Brewing Company to ABInbev click for Alicia’s take or Kevin’s). CRI also peddles brews from the “Craft Brew Alliance” the members of which include Widmer Brothers, Red Hook Ale Brewery, Kona Brewing Company, Square Mile Cider and Omission Beer which was developed internally. ABInbev owns 32.2% of the business and is also the company’s distribution partner with CRI handling the duties on Long Island.

Aside from the ABInbev wholly owned subsidiaries and partially controlled brewing group CRI’s “Craft Corner” library also includes behemoths Victory Brewing Company and Harpoon Brewery. Alongside these brewing giants CRI has made strategic and important inroads into the local craft beer community on Long Island. These relationships stretch from SingleCut Beersmiths located in Astoria, Queens out to Riverhead and Long Ireland Beer Company. And now they are joined by Port Jeff Brewing Company.

Located downtown, in the heart of Port Jefferson NY the just over three year old brewery has become a main stay of many establishments throughout NY. Creative and innovative Port Jeff Brewing Company has released numerous styles of beer upon a wanting public. Recently arrived head brewer Matt Gundrum has been hard at work tweaking recipes, dialing in equipment and brewing more beer (read our interview with Matt). Owner and brewmaster Mike Philbrick has already ramped up production anticipating the partnership saying, “We basically will go from 2 sales guys delivering all over Nassau and Suffolk to over 40 people representing the brand.”

Having just gotten married ourselves we are happy to see another local couple come together. We wish Mr. Philbrick and the other amazing people of Port Jeff Brewing company the best. This new arrangement will mean more beer for their fans and the ability to secure more taps hopefully leading to more fans. When asked about the switch from independently distributing his beer to partnering with the local powerhouse Philbrick commented, “Self distribution gives you incredible insight to how your customers want to be served”, which is a level of service he sees continuing through the partnership with Clare Rose Inc. We are excited to see what this relationship will bring to real craft beer drinkers throughout their distribution area.

How do you feel about Clare Rose Incorporated distributing yet another Long Island brewery? We’d love to hear from you.

Owner Mike Philbrick Showing off Port Jeff Brewing Company Beer

Owner Mike Philbrick Showing off Port Jeff Brewing Company Beer

Blue Point Brewery Press Conference with Owners Mark Burford & Pete Cotter + Andy Goeler of Goose Island/ABInBev

Prior to the 10th Annual Blue Point Cask Ales Festival on April 5, 2014, Blue Point Brewery held a small press conference to discuss the recent sale to Anheuser-Busch In Bev. We were invited, along with several other members of Long Island media, to speak with owners Mark Burford & Pete Cotter as well as Andy Goeler from Goose Island/ABInBev. As you may know, Goose Island is a craft brewery from Chicago that was purchased by ABInBev in 2011.  The setting was very informal, as we sat around the empty tasting room in a big circle, but it was somehow fitting of the laid back vibe Blue Point has been cultivating for all these years. The format took on more of a roundtable Q&A discussion, allowing us to address any questions or concerns about the sale that officially went through on April 1, 2014.

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As expected, the conversation mostly focused on what, if anything, is going to change about Blue Point now that they are under new ownership. Mark & Pete reiterated that the only changes that they anticipate will be positive ones for everyone involved with Blue Point as well as the consumers. Employees now have better benefits and job security, which is something that both owners stated was a top priority. Pete went on to add ,”So many employees have insurance that never had it before. They’re making doctors appointments right now.” The capital behind ABInBev will also allow them to make more and better beer. Though this is all very new, a big priority for both Blue Point and ABInBev will be to expand the current facility in Patchogue, NY, likely to other land on the same lot where the brewery and tasting room currently stand. Though they said there are no current plans to distribute nationwide, there are still many accounts up and down the eastern seaboard demanding Blue Point, but the current brewery is not able to keep up. The facilities and distribution network of ABInBev will allow the production and availability of Blue Point to increase, with Toasted Lager and Hoptical Illusion leading the pack.

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Andy from ABInBev/Goose Island noted that Blue Point was so appealing to them because of the culture that has become ingrained in their brand. They want to preserve and market that culture, while Mark & Pete saw an opportunity to preserve the culture by approaching ABInBev with the sale. Andy mentioned that another huge selling point was the massive cask program that has become so synonymous with Blue Point. Goose Island and the rest of the ABInBev family currently do not produce many cask beers, so this is a place where they feel they can learn from Blue Point and branch out into a new brewing avenue. Andy was eager to get out and fill his sample glass, as he said “I’ve been in the beer business for 34 years and I haven’t had a ton of exposure to cask beer.”Blue Point is also looking to expand creatively due to the vast resources that ABInBev is able to offer, such as growing all their own barley and even having a strain from 1900 still going. As Mark put it, “If i want to make a beer from 1920 I can have them grow the raw material for me and we can make an authentic beer.”

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Everyone involved was aware of the potential negative backlash from the sale, as they saw something similar in Chicago with Goose Island, so Mark & Pete were prepared for it. Of the customers who were let down by the sale, Mark said “In our minds we’re going to win them back with the beer” Andy also understood the hesitance from the consumers and media and suggested that we all meet again in a year to see how Blue Point has changed. He said if all their current employees are fired and the beer is completely different then perhaps the nay sayers were right, but that is not how he sees the future, saying “The real way of proving things is in time”. Though it is extremely fresh and they are still “peeling back the onion”, both sides have a lot of new ideas and hopes for this partnership. We will definitely be revisiting the issue in a year to see if this press conference accurately predicted what’s to come for Blue Point Brewery. Best of luck to Mark & Pete and congratulations on another very successful Cask Festival.

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Blue Point Brewing Company Acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev – Kevin's Take

(A letter sent to the members of Brewer’s East End Revival)

All,

For us it was not a problem. Alicia and I said that if (for some reason) a large company wanted to buy Beer Loves Company we would totally sell it to them. That would be great for us in the same way that the sale of Blue Point Brewery to ABInbev is good for Mark, Pete and their investors. They are getting rewarded for all of their hard work. Mark & Pete doing well and being successful is a different thing though from what most people seem to be reacting to.

A lot of people see this as a slap in the face because they personally (and mistakenly) feel invested in the company. It is the owners entity, not theirs. So when the owners do good we of course should all say “way to go” and hope for the day when something like that can happen to us.

On the other side of the coin are the people who are interested in it for the beer and how this could change the landscape of local brewing and distribution etc. ABInbev just bought themselves into all of the bars that sell Blue Point. What happens to all of the bars now that touted, “No Crap on Tap” which was code for no Bud, Miller or Coors. Blue Point, as it currently exists, is not crap but through a back channel BMC products are more and more finding their way “on tap”.

In the long run who cares is really the answer to most things but when enough people stop caring what do you end up with? A homogenized product. Success is great and we wish not only Mark & Pete but all of the hard working, fun loving people of Blue Point every bit of success they can have. We want all of our friends to succeed and prosper because we know them. That is what makes a purchase like this initially shocking to many, we suppose. Your friend has decided to turn it over to the unknown entity; something that people see as an evil empire. A company who knowingly watered down their already watered down product for more profits.

By selling to ABInbev Blue Point went from our local brewery to a toenail on the giant’s foot. That may be where some people are having a tough time swallowing this. If they feel that way it is their right, as much as it was Mark & Pete’s (and whoever else may be involved in the decision making process) to sell. There is no right and wrong there are only different perspectives.

Most Americans love an underdog story and that is what Blue Point was. The local underdog. Through the eyes of someone seeing this as a good thing for those involved, finally benefiting from all of their hard work, it is like someone you know finally making it to the Major Leagues. To those who see it as a bad thing it is like Luke Skywalker accepting Darth Vader’s offer and joining him on the Dark Side.

How will this turn out for ABInbev and Blue Point Brewery? Who knows. We hope that everyone involved with the brewery prospers from this and that their customer base still enjoys their product. If nothing changes in their recipes and output (unless for the better) it would be great. Your local beer could be something available nationwide! Think about that, anywhere you go you may be able to drink that same Blueberry Ale you love.

However, “Don’t underestimate the power of the Dark Side”, is something that is drilled into the psyche of people who identify with the Davids and not Goliath. If they are wary of what is to come it is understandable. Change can be hard and is not something which is easy to accept. These people supported a product made by a, “…microbrewery with absolutely no corporate ties”, and not a large conglomerate.

In the end we are happy for the guys at Blue Point. Way to go, you’ve done it. Now just don’t mess with the recipe for your Oatmeal Stout and bring back your ESB!

Kevin b.
Secretary Beer Loves Company

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Day After the Announcment

Blue Point Brewing Company Acquired by Anheuser-Busch InBev – Alicia's Take

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So, by now you have all heard the news: Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB) has purchased long time Long Island favorite, Blue Point Brewing Company. As expected, the initial public reaction was less than positive with the word “sellout” being thrown around more than a few times. Former loyal customers are already proclaiming that they will never drink another Blue Point Beer again, while others are bracing for Bud Light to be on tap at the brewery. To be fair, there have been a few congratulations offered, though from what we have seen they are few and far between. But why all the outrage only a mere few hours after the announcement?

There is much speculation that the recipes will change and the Blue Point beer that AB produces will not be on par with what we have come to expect from the brewery.There is also talk of AB moving Blue Point to another state, similar to what happened when they acquired Rolling Rock. This would rob Long Island of their oldest and (arguably) most beloved craft brewery while taking jobs away from the local population. However, none of this has happened yet.

The tasting room has not been open since the announcement was made, but Blue Point has already posted an announcement on their website assuring customers that when they do open on Thursday (we’ll be there) business will proceed as usual. Obviously there is no way for supporters of the brewery to know how this will all pan out, but the overwhelming negative reactions shows that people are expecting the worst.

In the world of craft beer, Bud, Miller and Coors have become the universal enemy. They churn out mass quantities of product that is all about marketing and much of the experimentation and creativity that is involved in the “craft” of brewing alludes them. But enemy or not, there is no denying that they all know how to run a successful business. And as idealistic as any person who is lucky enough to make a living doing something they are passionate about may be, at the end of the day the goal of running a business is to make money. Brewing beer entirely for the love of the craft already exists and it’s called home brewing. It’s a great hobby and many people are content to keep it as just that, never quitting their day jobs. But when your hobby becomes a profession and you have a family to support, employees that depend on you and the desire to keep expanding and introducing your product to new audiences, well, money talks.

We read many comments proclaiming that Blue Point Toasted Lager is bound to become the “new Bud Light”. If this is implying that the recipe will change and the beer will no longer be the one that introduced most of us to the brewery, well, then this is certainly a tragedy. But, it seems the concern is with the beer becoming as accessible as Bud, Miller and Coors, which may not be the worst thing in the world. Blue Point has been responsible for getting many Long Islanders into craft beer and has always been very active and supportive towards the local community. Personally, we would rather see someone at a random bar in the midwest order a Blue Point Toasted Lager over a Bud Light.

Though AB is a giant corporation and money spent on Blue Point beers will now go to them, can you honestly say you are totally supportive of where every dollar you spend goes? Most craft breweries have private investors, do you read up on them before buying a pint? If you don’t want to buy a Bud Light next time you go to the bar, that’s fine, but why stop buying a beer you love just because the owners saw an opportunity to expand and took it? Frankly, no one knows exactly how this will all shake out. Maybe the brewery in Patchogue will turn into a light beer museum with only watered down crap on tap, or perhaps nothing will change and the friendly faces you are used to seeing will still be there despite the change in ownership. All anyone knows right now is that Pete & Mark, two guys who paved the way for countless other craft breweries on Long Island, have been given an opportunity to take their brand to the next level.

Yes, it sucks when you hear the new, major label produced track from your favorite band on the radio. But at the end of the day they are just trying to make a living doing what they love, like most craft brewers are. And let’s be honest, if you put your all into building a small local business for fifteen plus years and were offered a huge influx of capital, wouldn’t you at least entertain the idea?