Cigar City Brewing Just Sold, But Not to Budweiser

Florida's Cigar City sold a controlling stake to Fireman Capital, which also owns Oskar Blues.

The craft brewing shakeups keep on coming: Hot on the heels of Victory Brewing's merger with Southern Tier under a new parent company, Cigar City of Tampa, Florida, has agreed to join forces with Colorado's Oskar Blues, which is owned by Boston private-equity firm Fireman Capital.

Just as Oskar Blues gave up its own controlling stake to Fireman back in early 2015, Cigar City has been acquired by Oskar Blues Holdings, joining three other breweries — Wasatch, Squatters, and Perrin Brewing — to form United Craft Brews LLC, a new holding company that will focus on craft brewery acquisitions.

Yes, it's a bit confusing. All of the money and shares changing hands between different holding companies, investors, and firms are enough to cause a beer lover to toss his pint glass in exasperation. And it's all the more frustrating because Cigar City is framing the buyout as a purchase by Oskar Blues, when really, a much larger beast, Fireman Capital, is actually holding the leash. 

At the end of the day, all that should really matter is whether or not Cigar City will be able to continue producing the award-winning, world-class beers — Jai Alai IPA, Maduro Oatmeal Brown, and Hunahpu's Imperial Stout — that inspire so many other brewers a craft fans. Fortunately, all signs point to yes. As in Victory Brewing's case, it looks at though the business decision was necessary for survival in an ever-evolving industry that's putting pressure on bigger craft brewers to keep expanding. The sale not only gives Cigar City founder Joey Redner and his father/business partner, Joe Redner, a stake in United Craft Brews, it also gives them cash to grow Cigar City. Plus, combining resources can only help Oskar Blues and Cigar City make a deeper dent in sales currently claimed by the corporate likes of AB-Inbev and MillerCoors, which maintain about 89 percent of the market.

On this note, skeptics can, at the very least, take comfort in the fact that Cigar City has not sold out to the behemoth known as Anheuser Busch-InBev, despite longstanding rumors suggesting the opposite was a possibility. And yet, even if such a scenario had come to fruition, Cigar City consumers wouldn't have necessarily noticed, as the mega-conglomerate has seemingly had no negative impact on the creative functions or decisions of the craft breweries (like Goose Island) it has already purchased — how it has impacted business for other craft breweries, however, is another story.