Business

Wild Rose Brewery agrees to be acquired by Sleeman

Alberta's craft beer industry is about to get shaken up as one of the most well-known craft beer brands in the province will soon by acquired by the third-largest brewing company in Canada.

Shareholders of the Calgary-based craft beer company accept offer

Wild Rose opened a new brewing facility in 2013 and recently extended the lease on its taproom. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

Alberta's craft beer industry is about to get shaken up as one of the most well-known brands in the province will soon be acquired by the third-largest brewing company in Canada.

Shareholders of Calgary-based Wild Rose Brewery voted on Thursday in favour of accepting an offer by Sleeman Breweries. It's the first time a craft brewer in Alberta has been purchased by a large multinational company. 

The deal was announced Friday morning and will become official at the end of the month.

Rest assured, this beer is not changing.- Wild Rose CEO Bill McKenzie

The vote was nearly unanimous said Wild Rose chief executive Bill McKenzie in an interview, after the companies were in negotiations for almost one year.

"It feels great, the fact that our shareholders were so supportive," he said. "Everyone is proud of what we've accomplished and where we continue to go."

At this point, the plan is for Wild Rose beer to continue to only be sold in Alberta. (Kyle Bakx/CBC)

While Wild Rose will no longer be independent, the company said it will keep using the same ingredients and recipes. At this point, the brewer will continue to focus on the Alberta market, but will look at sales outside of the province in the future.

While some customers may not want Wild Rose to be owned by a large international brewer, McKenzie said he appreciates people showing their passion.

"It's an indication folks here in Alberta just don't want things to change. That's great feedback," he said. "Rest assured, this beer is not changing."

After beginning in a garage more than two decades ago and eventually converting a Quonset hut on a former military base in the city into a microbrewery, Wild Rose will now be owned by Sleeman, which is a part of Sapporo Holdings Ltd. of Japan.

Both breweries said this deal provides an opportunity to accelerate their growth in Alberta. Sleeman said its market share in the province is growing and nearing its national average.

"Sleeman's approach going forward is to find great partners that we can partner with, invest with and ideally, grow the business with. So it was just a really good match for both sides," said Peter Bodenham, Sleeman's vice-president of marketing.

There are no plans for Wild Rose's facility in Calgary to start brewing Sleeman products, the companies said.

Sleeman has acquired a few other craft brewers in the past and largely left them alone to operate independently, including B.C's Okanagan Spring and Quebec's Unibroue.

Peter Johnston-Berresford, an instructor in brewery operations and management at Olds College in Olds, Alta., about 100 kilometres north of Calgary, expects the same with Wild Rose.

"I think Big Beer is finding out it's pointless or it's foolish to go in there and just try and change it and make it more Big Beer-y, if you get my drift. So, the idea is you've got these great big companies that are buying smaller breweries and ostensibly just including them as part of their portfolio," he said.

While this is the first craft brewer in Alberta to be sold to an international brewer, Wild Rose's McKenzie expects more deals in the years to come.

"I think there will be," said McKenzie. "There are more than 100 breweries now in the province and they're doing very good. Guys are making great beer and getting involved in the community."

The value of the deal was not disclosed. The jobs of the 88 employees are safe, the companies said.

About the Author

Kyle Bakx

Reporter

Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with CBC's network business unit. He's covered stories across the country and internationally.

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