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Oskar’s divestiture: Did private equity acquire a majority stake?

By Bart Taylor June 2, 2015, 06:30 am MDT

Word of Oskar Blues divestiture continues to leak out, and the question in Colorado's close-knit craft sector, is how much? For many, the sale of a majority stake of any of Colorado's bellwether crafters to private equity investors would be an earth-flattening event, a Rubicon crossed. 

Rumors have been swirling, but Chad Melis of Oskar Blues confirmed to me an investment had been made. "Details of the deal are not disclosed," Melis said, "but Fireman Capital (Partners) has invested to help Oskar Blues meet its capital needs as we continue to engineer growth." He declined further comment. 

Two things make this deal a big deal. One, Oskar Blues is a first-mover in an industry sector that's captured the imagination and growing market share of consumers nationwide, not to mention the national and international business press. It's also an economic tsunami; like Scotland's whiskey stash, the value of Colorado's craft beer sector is off the charts. 

A huge part of the growth and influence of today's Colorado craft brand is the fierce independence of its operators. 'Craft' has become synonymous with 'independent', with the ability -- no, imperative -- to experiment and innovate free of the profit motive that guides decisions for Big Beer and most every other industrial manufacturing brand. 

Yet thus far, none of Colorado's top craft brewers has sold a controlling interest to an equity partner, to an entity with designs on making money and not beer because, well, the Palisade apples were over the moon. 

Many are concerned that non-industry ownership will poison the well. But are the fears of a slippery slope well founded? If Oskar Blues, certainly an iconic Colorado crafter, has sold a majority stake, does it mean the beginning of the end for Colorado craft's epic rise? 

It's hard to see how. Yes, bringing on a financial partner will influence operations. Sellers must approach a private equity deal with eyes wide open. And if Oskar did sell a majority interest, they may be the first but won't be the last. 

Nevertheless, Oskar Blues might consider tapping the qualities that launched a revolution to get ahead of an issue that in the end may prove to be no more than a speed bump. Facts are better managed than rumors.

Bart Taylor is publisher of CompanyWeek/BreweryWeek. Contact him @ btaylor@companyweek.com. 

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