It’s official. On March 2, Old Dominion Brewing Co. in Ashburn, VA announced its sale to Coastal Brewing, a joint venture between Fordham Brewing and Anheuser-Busch.
Fordham is a growing regional brewing concern originally based in Annapolis and now brewing and bottling in Dover, Delaware. The company was born in 1703 and resurrected by descendants of the founder in 1995. Fordham also owns the expanding regional chain of beer-oriented Rams Head Tavern restaurants and live music venues.
The new Coastal Brewing contrivance is 51% owned by Fordham and 49% by Anheuser-Busch, and will assume ownership of Old Dominion and Fordham brands, including Dominion Ale, Dominion Lager, Oak Barrel Stout, Fordham Copperhead, Fordham Lager, Oyster Stout and others, as well as ownership of the Old Dominion brewery and Brewpub in Ashburn, Va.
Anheuser-Busch will focus on distribution, providing the benefit of a nearly monopolistic network of A-B distributors and therefore far better presence at the retail level.
Commenting on the sale, Old Dominion founder and president Jerry Bailey said, “Under Coastal’s stewardship, the quality of Old Dominion brands will be protected and there’s no limit to what they can accomplish.”
Growth, they will undoubtedly accomplish. But with this sale there is one thing they will not be able to achieve: independent ownership. Independent, local ownership matters. And now Old Dominion doesn’t have it. As long as A-B is the large minority partner, Fordham and Dominion are beholden to commercial pressures that shift the focus to sales and marketing rather than brewing and being good business citizens within the local community.
Am I confident that the Fordham and Dominion beers will retain character and craft-quality? Yes, at least in the near term. Am I happy that I will now be able to find these beers much easier in the mid-Atlantic region? I suppose so, but frankly I will now be looking for alternatives. Old Dominion Ale has been my daily dinner libation of late, but with Old Dominion in league with Anheuser-Busch, I now have reason to rely more on my growing homebrewing habit – with my own best bitter pouring out of my beer engine, I’ll have little reason to reach for a Dominion Ale.
It will be slightly harder for me to swallow Tuppers Hop Pocket Ale and Pils. These beers, brewed at Old Dominion, are what turned me on to craft beer and remain two of my favorite beers. I have attended countless beer tastings with brand-owner Bob Tupper as the host. I feel a personal connection to these beers. But now I feel torn. Local, independent ownership is obviously not the sole criterion for selecting a beer – for most people it is not a criterion at all. But since there are other locally-brewed beers that are still independent, I’ll seek those out more, now that A-B has moved in on my local faves.
As I mentioned a few days ago, Hook and Ladder Brewing will be opening a brewpub right up the street from my place. I’m hoping that the line-up of beers there proves to be worthwhile. It will make it that much easier to say goodbye to Old Dominion.