In a surprising turn of events, Tukwila’s Odin Brewing Company announced via press release that it is purchasing Ballard favorite Hilliard’s Beer (which Eater considers one of Seattle’s essential breweries). "This deal will allow us to grow our capacity, improve our packaging capabilities and grow share in an ever expanding market," says Odin owner Dan Lee.
According to the release, Hilliard’s founder Ryan Hilliard will leave the craft beer industry rather than join Odin’s team as some owners might following a merger: "It’s not often that deals like this come along, and when they do you have to be ready to move on them. I have enjoyed my time in the craft beer sector and am thrilled my namesake beer will live on in good hands." No word yet on what this means for employees of Hilliard’s, founded in 2011.
It’s becoming commonplace for massive conglomerates to insinuate their way into the booming craft beer scene by purchasing small brewers, as Anheuser-Busch has done with the likes of Goose Island in Chicago and Seattle’s own Elysian Brewing Company, but a small producer buying another brewery of a similar size is still unusual.
Evidently, Odin — which launched in 2009 and operates its own brewery and taproom under one roof as of March — wants Hilliard’s equipment and beers (including canned year-round brands like Boombox IPA, Chrome Satan, Murdered Out Stout, and Saison), but not its physical space: "The deal as structured will move certain tanks and equipment to Odin’s new home in Tukwila," the release states, "and see them take over the day to day production and distribution of the Hilliard’s brands."
Meanwhile, Odin plans to sell Hilliard’s Ballard brewery and tasting room as a turnkey operation. "We are looking to see if there is an interested party ready to step up and acquire the Hilliard’s facility as-is," says Wes Peterson of Odin in the release. "I suspect given the proliferation of breweries in the market that there will be a lot of interest in Ryan’s facility." Want to buy the space? Send an inquiry to Kingcountybrewery@gmail.com.
Update, 6/24/16: Wes Peterson, the financial lead for Odin, tells Eater the entire discussion leading to the sale of Hilliard's started "as all discussions start": over a beer. Regarding "the state of the industry, the proliferation of breweries, pressures, opportunities, scalabilities," Peterson says the question became simply, "Can you not just produce more beer with the same equipment at a better utility rate?" Indeed, economy of scale is a constant struggle for small companies in most industries.
"Can you not just produce more beer with the same equipment at a better utility rate?"
Peterson says much of the transition process is still up in the air, as he came just this morning from the first official transition meeting between Hilliard's and Odin. Because of a non-disclosure agreement, Hilliard's staff was only informed of the sale when it was finalized, so there haven't yet been any discussions about what might happen with Hilliard's team. He says, though, that Hilliard's beers will go through the same vetting process as Odin's beers do, and one of the first moves will be to "evaluate the viability of Hilliard's brands based on its performance in the market." Like any brands over time, some of Hilliard's will stay and some will go.
For now, you can still visit Hilliard's in Ballard; Peterson says the Hilliard's taproom and production facility will continue operating as normal for the time being, as the company still has beer in the tanks that will eventually move to Tukwila. He expects the transition of equipment to happen within the next 60 to 90 days and hopes there won't be any outages of Hilliard's products.