DuClaw Brewing Co. has become the latest Maryland craft brewery to be acquired by an out-of-state brewery amid continuing consolidation in the industry.
Baltimore-based DuClaw, founded more than 25 years ago in Bel Air, said on its Facebook page that it has been bought by River Horse Brewing Co., based in Ewing, New Jersey.
“The powerful combination of two beloved brands that each boast a legacy of over 25 years of great beer will ensure the continued success of these products,” said DuClaw’s announcement, posted Thursday afternoon.
Each brand will be managed separately, but efficiencies will be created by combining facilities and sharing production capacity and some distribution partnerships, DuClaw said.
Dave Benfield, DuClaw’s founder, said production at the company’s Rosedale brewery will end next month. The facility employs about 15 people in production and administration, all of whom have been offered jobs at River Horse. The company will continue to employ the eight people now in marketing and sales, he said.
Benfield, a Harford County native, will direct strategy, portfolio, product innovation and “vibe” for DuClaw, the brewer of labels such as Sweet Baby Jesus!, Misfit Red and Regular Beer.
River Horse plans to expand the capacity of its facility in Ewing, New Jersey, to meet the demands of DuClaw’s national distribution footprint. DuClaw products are sold on shelves and taps in 21 states and Washington, D.C., and internationally in Canada and France, the company’s website says.
The new owners are planning “innovative” additions to the DuClaw lineup, the announcement said.
“From the first day that we sat down with Dave to discuss a possible combination, we knew that this would be a wonderful partnership,” Chris Walsh of River Horse, said in the Facebook announcement. “Dave is one of the most innovative minds in brewing and is always ahead of the curve in his flavor profile formulations.”
DuClaw’s acquisition comes amid an ongoing industry shake-up.
Two weeks ago, Flying Dog Brewery, based in Frederick, announced it will be bought by New York-based FX Matt Brewing Co., which will take over production of Flying Dog beer by August. FX Matt, a family-owned brewery founded in 1888, is looking for a location in Frederick to open a Flying Dog taproom. Plans call for including an “innovation” brewery.
In late April, Flying Fish Brewing Co., a regional operator and one of New Jersey’s oldest breweries, was acquired by Cape May Brewing Co.
Earlier that month, industry giant Diageo announced it would close its beer production plant in Baltimore County where it made Baltimore Blonde and lay off 97 workers. The company is keeping its taproom and a small-batch brewery at the Relay site, once the location of a Seagram’s bottling plant.
And Full Tilt Brewing on York Road in North Baltimore closed in March.
Amid ebbing demand, craft breweries have looked to consolidate or form partnerships amid shifting craft beer trends for most of the last decade. Beer has lost market share to wine, spirits, “ready to drink” packaged beverages and seltzers, according to data reported by drink and beverage industry trade publication Just Drinks.
Though the number of craft breweries in the U.S. has continued to grow since 2012, the rate of openings has slowed since 2018, data from The Brewers Association shows. Research from GlobalData, Just Drinks’ parent, shows that the volume of beer sold since 2015 has remained flat while spirits consumption has grown, the trade publication said.
Pandemic-related supply chain problems also added to craft brewers’ troubles.
Boston Beer Co., maker of Samuel Adams beers, merged in 2019 with Delaware brewery Dogfish Head and formed a partnership with Beam Suntory to pursue the hard seltzer and spirits markets, Just Drinks said.
“I think you’re going to see brand consolidation, it’s already been happening, not just in Maryland but all across the nation,” said Benfield, DuClaw’s founder, in an interview. “I think its a natural maturing of an industry.”
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It’s also become more difficult to compete with out-of-state breweries and build a local presence because of Maryland laws limiting the number of taprooms, Benfield said.
“Going through Covid as a business owner was amazingly stressful,” he said. “It caused a lot of ripples in our industry. As you go through that, the combinations of breweries coming together are going to have a competitve advantage.”
He said that turning over production to the River Horse team will allow him to fully focus on products, strategy and sales.
“The operations side of brewing is challenging, and at the end of the day I was spending too much of my time and energy chasing the latest mechanical, supply or logistical issue, and was taken away from driving the brand the way I wanted,” Benfield said in the announcement.
The company said no interruptions are expected in the availability of DuClaw and River Horse beers sold at stores and taverns. Benfield said the deal with River Horse will allow Maryland to continue to be the brand’s home base and allows it to continue to sell certain beers only in Maryland.
DuClaw began as a brewpub in Bel Air in 1996 and moved to Baltimore County in 2014.
As of 2017, the brand had produced more than 65 types of beer and its best seller was Sweet Baby Jesus, an award-winning chocolate peanut butter porter.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the announcement was Thursday afternoon. The Sun regrets the error.