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TheStreet Open House

Glass Half Empty? The Great Craft Beer Selloff

Stock quotes in this article: BUD, BREW, SAM

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Earlier this week we asked a simple question: Is it still craft beer after the brewery sells?

We figured it was a question worth asking in light of the recent sales of Goose Island to Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and of Angel City and Coney Island Craft Lagers to Boston Beer Company's (SAM) Alchemy & Science subsidiary. After a far more recent event, maybe a new question is in order: Has the great craft selloff begun?

On Thursday, it was announced that Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company was sold to Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat. Beer Marketer's Insights estimates the sale price at between $100 million and $120 million as Duvel adds to U.S. holdings that already include Cooperstown, N.Y.-based Brewery Ommegang -- which recently partnered with Time Warner's (TWX) HBO on a line of beers based on that network's series Game Of Thrones.

Make no mistake: In small brewing and in the beer world in general, this is a big deal. Before this, Duvel shipped roughly 70,000 barrels of beer a year in the U.S., with half of that coming from Ommegang. Boulevard Brewing, meanwhile, is expected to ship 190,000 barrels in the U.S. in 2013. It is the 12th largest craft brewer in the nation, according to the Brewers Association craft beer industry group, and the 19th largest brewer by volume in all of the U.S.

Since beginning operations in 1989, Boulevard has expanded distribution through 24 states and the District of Columbia. It has a huge presence in the Midwest and coverage throughout the mountain states and West Coast. It should give Duvel a broader U.S. distribution footprint and make both Boulevard and Ommegang beers far more accessible.

Beyond the business ramifications, however, is a more pressing issue staring down craft beer as its pioneers inch toward retirement age. Boulevard founder John McDonald posted an open letter on the front page of Boulevard's site explaining his decision to sell. Between accolades for Belgian brewing, a love note to his home base of Kansas City and a torch passing to Duvel was a little insight into what's driving him to part with the brewery he built.

I'm not getting any younger, and the long-term future of the brewery has weighed on my mind for the past several years. After long discussions with my family, we determined that we wanted to find a way to take Boulevard to the next level while retaining its essence, its people, its personality -- all the characteristics that make our beer and our brewery so important to Kansas City and the Midwest.

Let those first five words land for a minute. Now consider the following: Ken Grossman founded Sierra Nevada in 1979 and has guided the Chico, Calif., brewery for nearly 35 years. Larry Bell first opened Bell's as a homebrew supply shop in 1983 before starting Bell's Brewery in 1985. Kurt and Rob Widmer first opened the doors of Widmer Brothers Brewery in 1984. Jim Koch brewed his first batch of Samuel Adams Boston Lager in 1984 and founded Boston Beer Company the same year. Kim Jordan is a relative newcomer by those standards, opening New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo., in 1991.

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