We’ve covered our fair share of brewery acquisitions here at Paste, but this one is a little bit unusual. Typically, we’re writing these stories about a nascent young craft brewery being acquired by a huge, multi-national corporation such as AB InBev, or a smaller craft brewery banding together with one of the bigger entities that exist under the craft umbrella, such as Oskar Blues’ Canarchy. What we’re not usually reporting is a legacy regional brewery being acquired by a much younger brewery, seemingly in an admission that time has passed it by. And yet, that’s what we have today.
Dark Horse Brewing Co., the venerable Marshall, Michigan brewers known for their Crooked Tree IPA among others, have filed for acquisition by Roak Brewing Co., which is based in the small town of Royal Oak, on the northern outskirts of Detroit. The move comes after several years of steeply declining sales and production difficulties—according to WWMT West Michigan, production of the company’s beer dropped a devastating 59% in 2018, to merely 4,654 barrels. That’s a far cry from the beginning of the decade, when Dark Horse was a regional brewery known throughout the Midwest for releases like Crooked Tree, Scotty Karate Scotch Ale or Plead the 5th Stout.
The brewery hasn’t yet made a public statement on the acquisition, or acknowledge it on their social media channels, beyond telling WWMT that “the move is a merger,” and “the breweries separate brands are to remain intact with no layoffs planned.”
Of course, we know that words are simply words—there’s no such thing as a brewery “merger,” when all is said and done. Dark Horse would hardly be volunteering to be acquired if they didn’t have to be—especially by a brewery with so much less history than they have.
That’s the most notable thing here—Roak Brewing Co. was founded only four years ago, in 2015. Dark Horse, on the other hand, was founded in 1997 and has been a consistent presence in Michigan beer for more than two decades. You simply don’t see this style of acquisition very often, and it speaks to what was likely some very choppy water over at Dark Horse. One has to assume that the choices were probably to either join with another, or let the brand fold.
Edit: Turns out, this isn’t Roak’s first acquisition of an older brewery, either. In 2018, the brand also acquired Traverse City, Michigan’s Right Brain Brewery, which was founded in 2007.
The deal isn’t yet official, as liquor commissioners from the Michigan Liquor Control Commission will need to approve the deal, a process that apparently could take up to three months. But it’s a bit of a sad day for Dark Horse, nonetheless. They join Battle Creek, Michigan contemporaries Arcadia Brewing Co. (opened in 1996) as southern Michigan breweries that have struggled in recent years, as Arcadia ended up in possession of the First National Bank of Michigan before being transferred to new ownership in May.