Firestone Walker’s Co-Founder Explains Why Duvel Is Buying Into the Brewery

Belgian brewery Duvel Morgaat is investing in California's Firestone Walker Brewing.
Belgian brewery Duvel Morgaat is investing in California's Firestone Walker Brewing. 

Firestone Walker announced Thursday that the "family-owned brewery with hands-on proprietorship" is combining with Belgium's Duvel Moortgat. The Belgian beer company also owns New York's Ommegang and notably acquired Missouri's Boulevard Brewing in 2013. "Our brewing team has proven themselves to be some of the best in the world, and we intend to keep that tradition, as does Duvel," says Firestone Walker co-founder David Walker. As for product? He assures there will be, "No change! Keep drinking the beer."

Such buyouts usually aren't so simple. It's not news that craft breweries are being acquired and left and right by bigger, wealthier, companies (Anheuser-Busch InBev in particular) who view their newly-acquired beers in terms of market positioning, not craft. And though beer lovers have understandably been concerned about what it means for the future of their favorite Firestone, Goose Island, or Elysian ales when these transactions take place, Duvel — a considerably smaller company than AB Inbev — could actually be good for Firestone Walker fans. 

To make sense of the Duvel-Firestone partnership, we pressed Walker for more details on the deal. Though he was cagey on some points, fans can expect the California brewery to significantly increase production and it doesn't appear that Duvel flat-out owns Firestone.

Was Firestone bought out by Duvel?
I would prefer to say it's an investment. They are going to help us build out our current brewery. They are a family-owned craft brewer and have been craft brewing for 150 years. Their help will be invaluable.

Why did this transaction take place?
It's our desire to expand our brewery without becoming wed to a banker. Craft brewers understand craft brewers. We're in the same tribe.

Who technically owns Firestone now?
Brewers! Control and the ability to manage our future was paramount, and this was woven into their investment. We're teaming up with Duvel to help us continue what we started 20 years ago. They are also a craft brewers with insane respect for what we as brewers do. Steven Pauwels of Boulevard and Hedwig Neven of Duvel are highly respected and traditional. They see our brewing team as peers and colleagues and we all hope to exchange ideas and elevate everyone in the family.

Is this partnership similar to that of Duvel buying Boulevard in 2013?
Not really. Boulevards ownership was looking to carefully retire. We are just getting started.

How will Duvel's money help the brewery grow?
Ongoing expansion. Our brewery has spent fortunes on barrels, brewhouses, and stainless steel. That’s not changing.

Will you be opening additional facilities to serve distant markets, like the East Coast or Europe? 
This is part of the long term vision. It makes no sense moving beer around the world so far in refrigerated containers. Although there are no plans to brew at other locations, eventually there will be. I like the idea of Union Jack being brewed in Antwerp to show Belgians what a fresh American IPA can really taste like.