A Fond Look Back on Saint Archer and CANarchy
A big part of The Full Pint’s ethos over the last decade was to champion for the underdog over the well-funded, mega corporation-owned breweries. This scenario or story has been told since the beginning of time pointing back to David and Goliath. While we still appreciate locally-owned, small-batch, excellently-made beer, we’ve sadly seen how the sausage is made or in this case, the beer is made, and have found that not all of our favorite, darling small businesses have been A) a well-run business and B) a place that treats their employees with dignity and respect. The pandemic, the great resignation and the brewery misconduct reckoning have uncovered that many of our favorite small, independently owned breweries are just getting by and that because of that, they aren’t all roses when it comes to workplace environments. What seemed like following amazing indy rockstars began feeling a bit gross as more and more stories became public and stories that have still have lived in whispers and rumors. To the point, I still have love and respect for many small, independent breweries, I just don’t view them with rose colored lenses and don’t assume that small equals good and big equals bad. When news broke recently of Saint Archer coming to an end after a quick sellout to MillerCoors and CANarchy selling to Monster, I had a very different emotional reaction than I would have years ago when I was drawing a much harder line against craft and non-craft beer.
Saint Archer Brewery
Saint Archer Brewery was born in the golden era of craft brewery acquisitions. Right around the time Ballast Point Brewing sold to Constellation Brands for a cool $1B, Saint Archer Brewery launched and quickly flipped to an eager buyer in MillerCoors, who was looking to add some craft and coolness to their lineup. San Diego being a grassroots craft beer industry town did not take kindly to big beer marking their territory like that, and made their feelings be known to Saint Archer, 10 Barrel Brewing and the then Constellation Brands-owned Ballast Point that they weren’t “craft.”
Taking away the politics and business talk for a second, Saint Archer made very good beer. For the money they invested, there’s no reason why they should have had bad beer. They tapped on many industry veterans to build their impressive brewhouse and relied on the pedigree of Pizza Port Brewing alumni and other classically trained brewing professionals to build and execute a state-of-the-art brewery. Pre-acquisition, I didn’t have a bad drop of Saint Archer beer. Post-acquisition, when I was a craft bible thumping liberal, the beer remained excellent. It was also nice that when going to a stadium or any venue with draft beer, that instead of having the usual Bud/Miller/Modelo option, that I would be able to get an overpriced 24 oz. cup of Saint Archer IPA.
It seems that they were too slick for the craft beer audience and too obscure for the mainstream drinker and they lived in perpetual purgatory. The purpose of this blog post is to memorialize that Saint Archer Brewing had excellent brewers that made excellent beer.
CANarchy, specifically Cigar City Brewing and Oskar Blues Brewery
The Heart and Soul of CANarchy
At the core of any successful big business was the launch of something small that people loved and caught fire. When news broke that CANarchy Craft Beer Collective sold to Monster Beverage Corp., it made me reflect on what was so special that got this company to the pinnacle of craft beer.
At the beginning of my craft beer journey, there were a few big familiar names in the space. You had your Dogfish Head, Sam Adams, Saranac, Sierra Nevada. All of which were identified as microbrew or craft, and all were packaged in 12 oz. brown bottles. The thought of a premium, import or microbrew in a can was unfathomable. Cans were reserved for Neanderthals who enjoyed Milwaukee’s Best, Natural Light or some other peasant-tier frat boy beer. The folklore that canned beer takes on a metallic taste was pretty widespread knowledge. Out of nowhere, this little company out of Lyons Colorado began spreading cheer in small drops around the country in the form of Dale’s Pale Ale. Not just any pale ale, but a pale ale that resembled a California style IPA in a can! It is the definition of a one two punch. Pretty much everyone’s reaction to the beer was the same, “this is delicious and it’s in a can!” Oskar Blues had/has the right combination of recipe execution, branding and price which was the formula for expanding national. Without Oskar Blues, there would have been no CANarchy, and was also one of the first high profile M & A situations that didn’t involve a big beverage company taking on the task of funding craft beer.
In the heyday of RateBeer.com, beer trading, ticking was a small startup brewery by the name of Cigar City Brewing. The craft beer explosion was largely in California, Oregon and Colorado, but Florida hadn’t really been in the conversation so much for various reasons. All of a sudden, this new brewery, Cigar City, was pumping out seemingly a new experimental beer weekly that us traders and tickers had to try, all while they were formulating a solid core lineup that would change the attitude of the Florida beer drinker from scoffing at craft beer to embracing it. While people can look at early makers of coffee stout and barrel aged stout like Goose Island, we can look at Cigar City Brewing’s Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout as one of the first wildly successful adjunct stouts or pastry stouts. Folks like J. Wakefield and many other successful Florida breweries have gotten their start or inspiration from pioneers Cigar City Brewing. While Cigar City Brewing realized they weren’t on a solid path of sustainability and succession, they began looking for the next chapter back in 2015/2016 and at the 11th hour of negotiations with ABI, took a deal with CANarchy to join the collective. This turned the likes of Jai Alai and Maduro Brown Ale into house hold names nationwide. This made me happy as it is the clear definition of a success story.
Next time I see a fresh six pack of Dale’s Pale Ale, I’m going to buy it. Next time I’m in Tampa, I’m going to stop by Cigar City Brewing’s tap room. They worked hard to get to the finish line in a very difficult line of business and thus far are still making great beer.
Special shout out to members of Saint Archer, Oskar Blues and Cigar City members who have been an important part of The Full Pint over the past 15 years in no special order, sorry for those I’ve forgot: Marty Jones (MJ!), Chad Melis, Joey Redner, Justin Clark, Wayne Wambles, Alexandra Nowell, Mrs. Redner, Jillian Laub Cooke, Nick Marron, Al Alvarez.