At a time when the rise of craft breweries in Montana can seem as unstoppable as a rising tide, one local brewery has been put up for sale.
Glacier Brewing Company in Polson was listed at the beginning of the summer for $875,000 and was recently reduced to $750,000. The price includes the property, $250,000 worth of equipment, recipes, distribution deals and even head brewer Dave Ayers.
“My little twist on it is I want to be included in the sale,” said Ayers, who is also the president and founder. “We have packaged it as a true turnkey. Everything goes with the sale, including me.”
Ayers started the brewery back in 2002 in the same building off of Main Street in Polson well before many newer craft breweries came to the area. He developed all the recipes, beer names and character the place embodies. He did it with the help of a small network of investors who are now ready to move on.
“I didn’t have all the financing under my belt, so of course I had to go out and find not only bank loans but also private investment,” Ayers said. “It is the same group of investors that have been with the brewery the entire time, since 2002, and they have all just kind of gotten to a point where they want to move on to something else. We had a very frank discussion last winter.”
He also says there are a lot of things that could improve with a sale to the right buyer, and he’s excited by that opportunity.
He would like to add full-time positions for both sales and marketing, positions he said other breweries in the state with deeper pockets already have. He thinks adding the two positions would further the Glacier Brewing Company brand and market penetration. The brewery currently sells about 65 to 70 percent of its beer in the summer, Ayers said, and is on track to produce about 600 barrels this year.
He would also like to install a commercial kitchen to give the place more of a brew pub atmosphere that he thinks could really flourish in Polson.
“This particular area of the lake has been notorious for restaurants blooming and dying real quick, and it’s not because there isn’t demand. I really believe this is a location that could not only benefit but really, truly flourish from having food,” Ayers said. “I even have recipes already for beer pancakes.”
The market share for craft beer in America more than doubled between 2011 and 2016, according to data from the Brewers Association, which represents small brewers nationwide. There are over 5,000 breweries in the U.S. and 53 of those are in Montana. Only Vermont has more breweries per capita than Montana.
A rising tide may raise all ships, but at some point the ships start bumping into each other. The result of the craft beer renaissance in the state is a crowded market.
Ayers said when he makes a special seasonal beer, it is harder than ever to get grocery stores to stock it on their shelves because of the sheer numbers of other local options. It didn’t used to be that difficult.
“This volume of breweries in this state, as far as I’m aware, is really unprecedented. There is definitely a public thirst for breweries. Before Prohibition every town had a brewery, it was almost a staple,” Ayers said. “It almost feels like we are moving back toward that.”
Ayers cut his teeth in the brewing industry in Colorado in the 1990s, where he said he arrived just before the craft beer bubble last popped. As more breweries kept popping up in peculiar places, the quality declined. He says that is his canary in the coal mine when it comes to predicting when the current bubble will burst.
The type of buyer Ayers expects to be most interested is someone who has always wanted to own a brewery but doesn’t know much about the craft of brewing itself. He says he has spent 15 years perfecting his recipes and working out the kinks of the industry, and potential buyers can avoid much of the tumult that comes with starting a new brewery. He has a diverse array of hop suppliers and distribution deals that get his beer on shelves throughout the state, something that is also becoming increasingly difficult.
He said the brewery has no plans to close while waiting for a buyer, nor does he have a kill vote if the new buyer doesn’t want to keep him on.
“It will be at the discretion of the buyers — if they want to keep me on, fantastic,” Ayers said. “If they want me to be more of a transition consultant, I can do that too.”
The brewery is listed with Fred McQuirk of Lambros Realty in Missoula. He can be reached at (406) 532-9234.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (406) 758-4438.