More detail on the Crispin/MillerCoors deal

Initial reports of the sale of Crispin Cider to MillerCoors contained scant detail. Little information was given beyond the fact of the sale and that Crispin, along with its affiliate Fox Barrel, was to be run as a unit of Tenth and Blake the craft-and-import division of the mega-brewery. The lack of information led to a whirlwind of internet chatter ranging from the reactionary "I'll never drink Crispin again" to the more circumspect "I'll just wait and see." Yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to speak with Crispin Founder and CEO Joe Heron to get the inside scoop.

According to Heron, discussions with MillerCoors began in November of last year. The deal was undertaken as a way to boost the fast-growing company to the next level or as Heron put it to "put muscles on the mouse." While Crispin has been hugely successful, growing 200% since 2008, it remains a small operation. Distributors complain of the company's inability to meet demand. Heron says that the partnership with MillerCoors will bring with it the engineering and process expertise needed to expand the cider-maker's capacity. It will also give Crispin access to lucrative markets such as retail chains. An infusion of cash to support the expansion can also be assumed.

Crispin will have a great deal of autonomy within the Tenth and Blake operation. According to Heron, that autonomy was a precondition of the sale. Heron will remain at the helm and cider making will stay at the plant in Colfax, Washington. The facility will be upgraded and expanded according to demand. Crispin will also retain its own sales staff and will continue to market its products personally to individual accounts.

Crispin has been an innovator in the cider segment. Its line of artisanal ciders includes barrel-aged products and ciders fermented with non-traditional yeast. Heron says that the focus on innovation will continue. Indeed, it was that innovative positioning that attracted MillerCoors to the company. "They came to us saying, 'we don't see anyone making cider the way you do." Heron told me. "They want to take what we do and make it big. They like us because we make cool shit."

Only time will tell what affect this sale will have on Crispin. If MillerCoors stays true to its hands-off promise the partnership could be a net gain for both the cider maker and consumers.

Cheers, Michael Agnew Certified Cicerone A Perfect Pint

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