AB Buys Another Craft Brewery


TORONTO -- The loyalties of craft beer aficionados were put to the test Friday when the owners of Mill Street Brewery, one of Canada's leading makers of craft beers, announced plans to be swallowed by Labatt Breweries in a takeover.

Under the agreement, the privately held Toronto company will belong to the world's largest brewing group, owned by Belgian company Anheuser-Busch InBev. Those prospects didn't sit well with some of the company's longtime customers.

This is Labatt's sixth acquisition of a North American craft brewer since 2011, and the deal immediately raised questions about how to define small craft breweries in a multinational industry that's purposely making the boundaries murkier than ever.

Mill Street will continue to operate as a stand-alone company as it looks for ways to expand production and capacity, said Mill Street co-founder Steve Abrams.

Over the past few years, the craft brewer has seen average sales growth of more than 15 per cent annually.

"Many craft brewers in Ontario are experiencing this huge surge just to keep up with demand," Abrams said in an interview.

"This immediate infusion of capital will assist us in getting tanks and more equipment."

However, those aspirations may not sit well with craft beer drinkers, who pride themselves in supporting local products made in small batches.

Some of them quickly took to Twitter to express dismay over the future of the Mill Street brand.

"Goodbye to craft. Hello average," posted @Simmsation on Twitter shortly after the announcement was made.

"Horrid news. I liked Tankhouse. Now I need a new beer," added @nfitz1, referring to one of the company's trademark brews.