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American Craft Beer Week, May 13–19: Untapped ESOPs - Blood, Sweat & Beer: Why ESOPs & Breweries Go Hand-in-Hand

Posted by Marc S. Schechter | May 13, 2019

In the last thirty years, beer in the United States has gone from macro to micro. The micro, or “craft” brew scene sprung up in 2012/13 and has quickly overtaken the U.S. beer market with craft breweries. Cities like San Diego (CA), Denver (CO), and Portland (OR) have some of the largest breweries per capita in the United States, with close to 7,000 craft breweries nationwide in 2018.

Breweries are bringing back the “company culture” for U.S. businesses. This company culture is the workplace environment, and the core of the business. Some craft breweries gained their first employees based on the desire to work for whatever pay was available, just to be part of the craft brewery movement. Two of America's oldest breweries, F.X. Matt and August Schnell attribute their success and longevity to providing a great place for the brewery team to work. August Schnell, which is still family owned, emphasizes their pride in their product and notes that  members do not mind working long hours because they enjoy their work and what their work is for.

Brewery culture seems made for Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). Breweries seek collaborators and innovators, and typically people want to work there long term and be part of the creation team for new brews. Without an ESOP, retirement can be difficult for workers, and could even close the brewery or change its structure altogether, depending on how the owners plan to retire. As many craft breweries are in the stages of their youth, their owners and founders may not yet have thought of a succession plan for their business, or developed contingencies to be employed in the event of a financial downturn.

It is here that we will look at five different breweries: Ballast Point, Green Flash, New Belgium, Modern Times, and Full Sail. Three of the five of these breweries are based in San Diego, CA.

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About the Author

Marc S. Schechter

Marc Schechter specializes in the areas of employee benefits, ERISA, and business matters.


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