Magic Hat and Pyramid
Burlington, Vt.; Seattle, Wash.
Florida Ice and Farm Co., Heredia, Costa Rica
It was as if these breweries were engaging in a series of dares with beer geeks and asking "Are we still craft?" after each turn.
Pyramid had solid credentials in its earliest days. Pacific Northwest craft brewing pioneer Beth Hartwell used Pyramid Pale Ale as the cornerstone of her Hart Brewing in Kalama, Wash., when she debuted in 1984. The Pyramid name didn't come until 1996, by which time Hart had expanded her lineup and added the Apricot Ale that would put Pyramid on the map. Pyramid grew so large that it absorbed Portland Brewing -- makers of MacTarnahan's Amber Ale -- in 2004.
Meanwhile, across the country, Magic Hat first came on the scene in 1984 and made its name with its #9 apricot ale that was incredibly similar to Pyramid's and a large, rotating lineup of beers that served as a gateway for early East Coast microbrew drinkers. In 2008, Magic Hat made the strong-arm move of buying Pyramid and merging it into its operations. Around the same time, Magic Hat began standardizing its offerings, paring down some of its more experimental beers and dumbing down the lineup.
By the time
KPS Capital Partners
came around in 2010 and offered to add Magic Hat's lineup to its North American Breweries holding company -- along with Genesee, Dundee and Labatt's U.S. operations -- and Magic Hat was more than happy to accept. Largely faceless and leaning heavily on Genny and Labatt's to prop them up, Magic Hat and Pyramid saw sales slump from 336,000 barrels in 2008 to 322,000 a year later. Even last year, the brands' 337,000 barrels in sales were relatively flat compared with what they were half a decade ago.
In the 1990s, these brands exemplified craft beer and were two of its brightest lights. Now they're lumped in with Genny Cream Ale, Labatt Blue and Dundee Honey Brown -- regional beers that may not be U.S.-owned either, but have more regional identity than their long-adrift "craft" stablemates.