After a two-year gap since the acquisition of Asheville, NC’s Wicked Weed in 2017, at which time the company seemed to state that its spate of acquisitions was over, Anheuser-Busch InBev has purchased another regional American craft brewery. This time around it’s Ohio’s Platform Beer Co., which fills in another hole in AB InBev’s U.S. craft beer map, in terms a path to regional dominance.
The company will become part of AB InBev’s “Brewers Collective” wing, which seems to have replaced the previous “High End” division for all intents and purposes as the governing body of the company’s acquired, formerly “craft” breweries. This is the beer giant’s 11th overall acquisition of a craft brewery in the U.S. (they’ve bought many more abroad), which have also included the likes of Goose Island, Golden Road, Devil’s Backbone, Karbach, Elysian, 10 Barrel, Blue Point, Wicked Weed and more.
Platform was founded in Cleveland in 2014 by “local entrepreneurs” Paul Benner and Justin Carson, and before long focused on fast expansion of their footprint. Current products include everything from sours and cider to “fruit ales, barrel-aged beers and a line of hard seltzer,” because of course there’s a line of hard seltzer. The company operates no fewer than four different facilities: A flagship tasting room and separate brewery in Cleveland; a Columbus tasting room; and a Cincinnati tasting room and coffee shop called “LOCOBA.” According to the press release announcement, a fifth location is also coming to Cleveland as a result of the acquisition, a “Phunkenship” sour brewing facility. There’s also talk of a sixth location in Pittsburgh as well, giving Platform a rather shocking number of physical addresses for a brand that many in the craft community likely aren’t even familiar with.
“In speaking with the other craft brewery founders in Brewers Collective, we know partnering with Anheuser-Busch means we will have the resources and the autonomy to bring our vision for Platform Beer Co. to life,” said Platform co-founder Paul Benner. “Being able to continue leading the day-to-day operations was an important factor in our decision and we have no doubt that this partnership will benefit our loyal staff and passionate customer base.”
The fact that the co-founders are staying on after the acquisition should not be a surprise to anyone at this point, as AB InBev has employed a very clear (and successful) strategy for retaining local support after acquisitions, focused on retaining brand figureheads under the wider mantra that “nothing will change.” Whether the beer actually suffers in reality will affect how some drinkers view the company going forward, although others will no doubt swear off Platform’s beers simply through a decision not to support AB InBev brands. And of course, many won’t care either way, which is the outcome the Brewers Collective and its parent company depend upon.
AB InBev, meanwhile, will no doubt look to pump new capital into Platform to expand their brands even further, and into new Midwestern markets. As with brands such as Goose Island, you might see some Platform flagship brews being produced in AB InBev facilities, if the company wishes to free up production at Platform’s own facilities. As cited by The Chicago Tribune’s Josh Noel below, the company has already experienced huge growth in the last two years.
“We are thrilled to welcome Paul, Justin and the entire Platform team to Brewers Collective,” said Marcelo Michaelis, president of AB InBev’s Brewers Collective in the acquisition press release. “We are inspired by their experiential mindset, and we look forward to supporting their growth plans as they continue to push boundaries through their intrinsic craft values of education, connection and collaboration. It’s this growth that will give beer drinkers access to even more choices in today’s competitive and dynamic beer market.”
What should craft beer stalwarts make of the fact that AB InBev ended its acquisition drought? Well, we can theorize that after a period of focusing on their acquired brands, the company has managed to identify some areas of geographical weakness in the U.S. market, where their acquired brands don’t carry quite enough “local” presence. Perhaps we’ll see some additional acquisitions to shore up these gaps in the near future?