Wicked Weed Brewing Joins Anheuser-Bush

"As a brewer, giving our team more resources to continue innovating our portfolio and the ability to reach more craft drinkers, allows us to keep putting the beer and the people first." -Walt Dickinson, Wicked Weed co-founder. Credit: Getty Images

On Wednesday Anheuser-Busch InBev announced Asheville, North Carolina's Wicked Weed Brewing would be joining the company’s The High End division, home to niche brands like Goose Island (Chicago), Devils Backbone (Virginia), and Elysian (Seattle). It’s ABI’s first U.S. acquisition of 2017 and is likely to come under scrutiny from the U.S. Department of Justice who last year, after ABI’s Devils Backbone acquisition, promised to “carefully scrutinize any future craft acquisitions” by ABI.

In a statement released by ABI, Wicked Weed co-founder Walt Dickinson said, “This is an exciting time for the entire brewing team. Our ability to create a wide range of really well executed beers that are focused on creativity, quality and drinkability is what makes Wicked Weed great. We have chosen to partner with The High End to position ourselves to make Wicked Weed what we imagined it could be when we first sat at a craft beer bar and talked about opening a brewery. As a brewer, giving our team more resources to continue innovating our portfolio and the ability to reach more craft drinkers, allows us to keep putting the beer and the people first.”

Among beer industry insiders, speculation of a Wicked Weed-ABI acquisition had been rumored for at least a year, due in no small part to the brewery’s relentless growth and aggressive expansion, paired with its co-founders’ ties to the Guthy-Renker marketing company. Started in 2012 with a single downtown Asheville brewpub, Wicked Weed now runs four breweries and barrel-aging facilities throughout the Asheville region including the Funkatorium (also downtown), a “clean” production brewery in Candler, North Carolina, and a sour production brewery in Arden.

The acquisition is arguably ABI’s most esoteric yet, with Wicked Weed focusing a huge chunk of production on niche beers including its Angel series of fruited sours, a variety of funky farmhouse ales, and an expansive array of barrel-aged cocktail-inspired beers. Over the last four years, the company has rolled out beer after beer seemingly at breakneck pace, positioning it as a prime candidate for growth, expansion, and now takeover. In addition to its barrel-aged program, Wicked Weed boasts a rich portfolio of hoppy mainstream beers like Pernicious IPA and Freak of Nature Double IPA, as well as Belgian-style Blonde Ales and Quads.

From the start, Wicked Weed brought sexy to Asheville.

The small North Carolina mountain town was long a craft beer destination before 2012 but often peddled in sleepy, dull styles that rarely attracted nationwide attention. Dickinson, along with his brother and brewing partner, Luke, changed that with a series of Great American Beer Festival wins — including in 2013 for their 100 percent Brettanomyces beer Serenity — and high-profile collaborations with breweries like Stone, Jester King, Creature Comforts, and The Rare Barrel.

The ABI acquisition almost certainly means a wider national distribution footprint for Wicked Weed, which now sells in only a handful of states, primarily in the Southeast. But how it will affect business in its hometown is less clear. Asheville is known for its support-local ethos, and a multinational takeover by a big company like ABI is unlikely to sit well with many locals. Reaction online has already reached the vitriolic. As one Facebook commenter Jason Smith put it, “I have spent thousands of dollars at Wicked Weed. I have 6 bottles of almost every beer you have produced (minus 4 I missed) in my cellar. I can not overstate how disappointed I am with you guys. For shame!! Best of luck to you guys moving fwd, but I shall spend my dollars elsewhere and will no longer patronize any of your facilities.”

The full statement from Wicked Weed:

“Just over four years ago, we started out with a simple idea: make great beer. From west-coast IPAs, to barrel-aged sours, we've been able to create world-class ales in a city that we love. We've grown from a small Brewpub with 60 employees, to a company with 4 locations and over 200 employees. In order to innovate, push the boundaries, and grow, we’ve decided to take on the High End branch of Anheuser-Busch as a strategic partner.

Our founding ownership staff will continue to lead

Wicked Weed in their same capacities as we move forward, and into the future. This decision is a large part of the future for Wicked Weed, and will allow our brand, staff, and beers to achieve their greatest potential. We will be releasing more details soon.

Thank you for being a part of this journey with us.”

And the press release from ABI:

New York and Asheville, NC, May 3, 2017 — Wicked Weed Brewing, one of Asheville’s most creative and fastest-growing craft breweries will be joining

The High End, Anheuser-Busch’s business unit focused on its craft and import brands.

Wicked Weed, founded in Asheville in 2012 by Walt and Luke Dickinson and lifelong friends Ryan, Rick and Denise Guthy, has created over 500 different beers since it opened almost five years ago. Starting with clean West Coast IPAs and authentic Belgian ales, Wicked Weed has progressively moved into creating sours. Now, Wicked Weed is widely known for their west coast style IPA’s including GABF silver medal winners Pernicious IPA, Lunatic Belgian Blonde as well as a wide range of award winning barrel-aged sour and farmhouse ales.

“This is an exciting time for the entire brewing team,” said co-founder Walt Dickinson. “Our ability to create a wide range of really well executed beers that are focused on creativity, quality and drinkability is what makes Wicked Weed great. We have chosen to partner with The High End to position ourselves to make Wicked Weed what we imagined it could be when we first sat at a craft beer bar and talked about opening a brewery. As a brewer, giving our team more resources to continue innovating our portfolio and the ability to reach more craft drinkers, allows us to keep putting the beer and the people first.”

Wicked Weed Brewing owns and operates four facilities in Asheville: their original Downtown brewpub where they produce over 150 different beers a year, the “Funkatorium,” the first dedicated sour beer taproom and barrel house on the East Coast, a 50-barrel production brewery in West Asheville, and the “Funk House and company headquarters,” a custom-designed brewhouse and training facility.

“Asheville has been our home for almost thirty years, and we believe this partnership will benefit our entire community, which has a deeply rooted passion for beer,” added co-founder Rick Guthy. “With our team’s heightened ability to innovate our hoppy and sour styles using the highest-quality ingredients around, we hope more and more beer drinkers will flock to Asheville to taste what we have to offer. Our pub and Funkatorium will stay focused on producing creative beers and will be part of Asheville’s beer tourism for years to come.”

“We are excited to welcome Walt, Luke, Ryan, Rick, Denise, and the entire Wicked Weed team into our High End family, said Felipe Szpigel, president, The High End. “It’s clear to me Wicked Weed is redefining what sophistication in beer can mean, with their amazing offerings being relevant in a wide variety of occasions. Their ability to brew the highest quality beers, in a variety of styles, along with their exciting barrel program, leads me to be optimistic about what our futures hold together.”

Anheuser-Busch’s partnership with Wicked Weed is subject to regulatory approval. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

About Wicked Weed Brewing

Wicked Weed Brewing is based in Asheville, North Carolina. Founded in December 2012, the original brewpub consistently hosts 25+ beers on tap including hop-forward, West Coast-style ales, open fermented Belgians, and barrel-aged beers. With the opening of the second location, The Funkatorium, in October 2013, Wicked Weed is striving to become one of the leading producers of barrel-aged sour and wild beers in the Southeastern United States.

Wicked Weed Brewing was awarded a gold medal for both 100% Brettanomyces Serenity in 2013, Mompara Honey Ale in 2014, a silver medal for Pernicious IPA in 2015, and a silver medal for Lunatic Belgian Blonde at the Great American Beer Festival. The brewery also received a bronze medal for Tyrant Double Red IPA in 2014, a bronze medal for La Bonté Pear in 2016 and a bronze medal for Red Angel in 2016 at the World Beer Cup. Wicked Weed continued its expansion in summer 2015 with a 50-barrel production brewery allowing for a wider distribution footprint in select states, and added a sour and wild dedicated brewery and barrel-house in South Asheville in fall 2016. Learn more at

www.wickedweedbrewing.com

About Anheuser-Busch

For more than 160 years, Anheuser-Busch and its world-class brewmasters have carried on a legacy of brewing America’s most-popular beers. Starting with the finest ingredients sourced from Anheuser-Busch’s family of growers, every batch is crafted using the same exacting standards and time-honored traditions passed down through generations of proud Anheuser-Busch brewmasters and employees. Anheuser-Busch owns and operates 19 breweries, 21 distributorships and 22 agricultural and packaging facilities, employing more than 16,000 people across the United States.

For more information, visit www.anheuser-busch.com.

About The High End

The High End is a business unit of Anheuser-Busch, created to provide its unique craft and European import brands with autonomy and support for growth, while fostering a collaborative environment for the brightest brewers in the beer community. The High End brings dedicated resources to support the growth of its brands, create successful partnerships and deliver more variety to consumers. Established in 2015, The High End includes brands such as Stella Artois and Shock Top, along with craft partners Goose Island, Blue Point, 10 Barrel, Elysian, Golden Road, Virtue Cider, Four Peaks, Breckenridge Brewery, Devils Backbone, SpikedSeltzer and Karbach Brewing Co.