Another iconic early American craft brewery is closing up shop. Magic Hat Brewing Co. will still exist—technically—but as the company announces the sale of its iconic Burlington, Vermont brewery, another chapter will have closed on the first wave of American craft beer.
Magic Hat is currently owned by the Costa Rica-based Florida Ice & Farm Co., aka FIFCO USA, and will vacate its “brewery and performing arts center,” known as the Magic Hat “Artifactory.” That space will be purchased by Burlington’s own Zero Gravity Craft Brewery, which has been in operation since 2004.
Magic Hat, meanwhile, has been around since 1994, and was one of the most widespread and recognizable craft brands of the late 1990s and 2000s. In particular, the brand’s flagship #9, a “not quite pale ale” with apricot extract, presciently anticipated the entire fruited pale ale/IPA trend that would arrive decades later. It became a cult favorite in a time when fruited beers were both uncommon and frequently terrible—looking at you, Sam Adams Cherry Wheat/Cranberry Lambic.
It was no secret that the brand had been contracting in a major way for years, less than a decade after it was the eighth largest craft brewery in the country back in 2011. According to Brewbound, FIFCO USA didn’t report sales volumes for Magic Hat brands in either 2018 or 2019, but the 2017 figure of 75,000 barrels was a fraction of the 181,000 barrels of Magic Hat that were produced back in 2014. We can assume that the trajectory has only continued downward since, forcing the move to sell off the Artifactory. This is nothing new for FIFCO, either—the brand owns several classic regional breweries, which have all seen shrinkage and closures. A month ago, FIFCO permanently closed Seattle’s Pyramid Brewing Co.’s Alehouse. And back in 2018, they closed Portland Brewing Co.’s taproom after more than three decades in business. In Burlington, FIFCO laid off 43 Vermont-based employees, who will receive severance or possibly remain on in new roles at Zero Gravity.
Magic Hat beer brands, meanwhile, will continue to exist, but they will be brewed at FIFCO USA’s Genesee Brew House in Rochester, NY, the source of Genesee Cream Ale and others. Some Magic Hat brands, such as #9, had already been brewed at this facility, but with the loss of the symbolic home base, it’s become clear to all that the Magic Hat brand is now a shell of its former self.
“Our ties to Burlington made this decision very difficult,” said FIFCO USA CEO Rich Andrews in a release. “In the end, this was the best long term opportunity for both us and our friends at Zero Gravity. With the capabilities and capacity of our new brewery and the evolution of Magic Hat, moving the production to Rochester provided the best long-term opportunity. We have been brewing a portion of Magic Hat in Rochester for nearly a decade. Having one brewery with new equipment, creates consistent, high quality beer that our Magic Hat consumers have come to expect.”
Magic Hat was originally founded by partners Alan Newman and Bob Johnson in 1994. It grew quickly in the 1990s and early 2000s, and was acquired by Seattle’s Pyramid Brewing in 2008. North American Breweries then acquired Pyramid and others in 2010, before itself being acquired by FIFCO in 2012.
The brewery made the following announcement on Twitter, regarding the sale.