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Blue Point Sale to Bud a Blueprint for Forgotten Craft Beer

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Blue Point Brewing Company isn't the first craft brewer to sell itself to Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) and it certainly won't be the last.

On Wednesday, Blue Point co-founders Mark Burford and Peter Cotter announced that A-B's buyout of the Patchogue, N.Y., brewery would close by the end of the second quarter of this year. They told Newsday there would will be no immediate changes to the brewery's operations, and all 25 employees are expected to stay on board.

Blue Point was founded in 1998 and, along with Brooklyn Brewery, it was one of the few New York-area craft brewers to make its presence felt in the New York metro area during the early 2000s. Blue Point signage and tap handles found their way into bars, bodegas and liquor stores around New York City, Long Island and New Jersey. Its Toasted Lager and Hoptical Illusion became fixtures in bars where craft beer previously hadn't ventured.

But what happened to Blue Point along the way is becoming a familiar tale in a growing craft beer market that has little respect for all but the oldest of its elders. As Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garrett Oliver gained notoriety for experimenting with styles and keeping the lineup fresh and new breweries including Sixpoint, Captain Lawrence and Barrier pushed boundaries, adopted cans and raised their profile, Blue Point drifted to the middle of the road. Nothing had changed at the brewery: Blue Point was still using premium ingredients and taking home hardware like the 2006 World Beer Cup medal for Toasted Lager and production had grown to 60,000 barrels. Tastes had changed around it, however -- as evidenced by Brooklyn roughly tripling Blue Point's sales and output -- and there was no succession plan to motivate the brewery to change with the times.

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Chicago's Goose Island found itself in a similar position in 2011. The then-23-year-old brewery still had great relevance in the Chicagoland area, but held beer geeks' attention with variations on its robust Bourbon County Stout limited-release imperial stout series. However, varieties including its 312 Urban Wheat and Honkers Ale had become tame by craft standards. Goose Island had partnered with the Craft Brew Alliance for production and distribution, and was brewing some of its Honkers Ale at CBA's Redhook brewery in Portland, N.H. Its distribution was handled by Anheuser-Busch under an ownership deal that gave it a 32.2% stake in CBA's business.

Nearly two decades into its lifespan, Goose Island was neither as bland as the big brewers' light lagers nor as exciting as the imperial IPA being produced by craft beer's smaller upstarts. In March 2011, founder John Hall and his family sold to A-B InBev for $38.8 million. Now some of Goose Island's beers are brewed at an A-B facility in Baldwinsville, N.Y., while its Chicago-produced Bourbon County Stout is rumored to become a year-round offering.

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