Business

Sleeman makes bid for Calgary's Wild Rose Brewery

Wild Rose Brewery, a cornerstone of Alberta's craft beer business, could soon be snapped up by Sleeman Breweries, the third-largest brewing company in Canada.

Shareholders of Alberta craft brewery to vote next month on purchase

Established in 1996, Wild Rose Brewery (whose logo is shown here) started out selling draught beer made from its facilities in a Calgary industrial park. As an upstart brewery, it had a cutting-edge reputation. (Wild Rose Brewery)

Wild Rose Brewery, a cornerstone of Alberta's craft beer business, could soon be snapped up by Sleeman Breweries, the third-largest brewing company in Canada.

Both brewers confirmed to CBC News that Wild Rose shareholders will vote on whether to accept the purchase on May 9. Wild Rose is privately held. Sleeman is owned Sapporo Holdings Ltd. of Japan.

A sale price has not been publicly disclosed.

"If the shareholders approve the sale of the company, we will be releasing full details on May 10th," Wild Rose CEO Bill McKenzie told CBC News in an email Monday. 

The craft brewery business in Alberta has exploded in recent years, but Wild Rose has been a mainstay.

It is perhaps best known for its North American India Pale Ale. Its menu also includes a stout called Alberta Crude.  Wild Rose's High Harvest IPA won a gold medal at this year's Alberta Beer Awards.

Humble beginnings

Established in 1996, the company started out selling draught beer made from its facilities in a Calgary industrial park. As an upstart brewery, it had a cutting-edge reputation.

Eventually, Wild Rose began bottling beer and in 2006 moved into a former air force hangar located on the Currie Barracks on Calgary's west side, converting a Quonset hut into a micro-brewery.

As demand grew, Wild Rose opened a new production facility in 2014 that allowed it to quadruple production.

Beer writer and consultant Don Tse says it's not surprising that a large multinational brewery would be interested in the Alberta craft brewery. (Michele Tse)

While Wild Rose is well known in Alberta, Sleeman is a player on the national scene.

Besides its core brands, it offers regional brands that include Okanagan Spring in British Columbia and Unibroue in Quebec as well as Old Milwaukee and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The company also markets or distributes imported products such as Guinness, Sol, Dos Equis and Tecate. Sapporo bought Sleeman in 2006 for $400 million.

If you love Wild Rose beer, I think people can be rest assured that it's not going to change.- Don Tse, beer writer and consultant

Beer writer and consultant Don Tse, a long-time observer of Alberta's craft beer scene, said it's not unique for larger multinational breweries to buy smaller craft breweries. But he believes this could be a first for an Alberta craft brewery. 

"Notwithstanding the recent explosion in the number of breweries [in Alberta], I think our craft beer scene is still in relatively early stages," Tse said. 

"This is an interesting acquisition because I think that Sleeman sees, or Sapporo sees, quite a bit of opportunity here. No business acquires another business without thinking they can grow it or make it more profitable."

Tse believes that if the deal goes through it will probably mean better market access for Wild Rose product and distribution to places where it isn't available currently. 

"If you love Wild Rose beer, I think people can be rest assured that it's not going to change," he said.

Alberta's craft beer business has seen significant growth in recent years.

At the start of 2018, there were about 70 independent craft breweries in Alberta, which rose to about 80 by mid-year. As of January, there were more than 125 existing and pending licences, up from about 50 in 2016.

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