Hensley Golden Eagle Purchase A Good Thing For Tucson Brewers?

Hey there beer fans, I hope your holiday season was as sweet and hoppy as possible. Strange days of late, as 2016 started pretty much where 2015 left off — local and state mainstays changing hands due to big money and big potential.

And in my best Rodney Dangerfield voice, I welcome you to the party where everybody gets — paid!

Santa dropped a huge, dollar sign-wrapped gift down Tempe-based Four Peaks Brewing’s chimney in mid-December when the acclaimed, highest-selling, and highest-producing Arizona brewery accepted the Anheuser-Busch InBev rose, becoming the latest cog in the Belgian-based beer conglomerate’s portfolio of former craft breweries.

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And while this news spread through the beer community like a July haboob, within days, AB InBev snapped up a couple more craft breweries  — London-based Camden Town Brewery and Colorado-based Breckenridge Brewery. Business as usual, I guess.

But, seriously, that was so last year.

You don’t have to look further than our own state boundaries to see some other monumental changes. Just two days ago, Phoenix-based Hensley & Co., announced it had purchased Tucson-based Golden Eagle Distributors. With this merger, Hensley owns most of the beer distribution in Arizona. It also is now one of the country’s largest distributor of AB InBev products.

And that may be a very good thing for Tucson, depending on your perspective.

While I’m usually a skeptical, beer-half-empty, conspiracy-theory, X-Files type of guy, I honestly think this merger will mend and — possibly — build bridges made of beer between the Old Pueblo and those people up north.

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First, full disclosure here. I was born and raised in — gasp! — Tempe. Much like the majority of people in the Phoenix metro area, I only knew about Tucson because ASU beat the UA in some sporting event every five years or so. Much like federal tax dollars, I believed that my hometown area was the only thing that existed in the state.

Since joining the beer world of Tucson, I see things a little differently. Talk to Hensley clients in Tucson, Flagstaff, Yuma, or anywhere outside of the land of Phoenicia, and they’ll tell you the same. We all play second fiddle to Phoenix. It seems like the Hensley beer reps spend 80 percent of their time in the Phoenix metro area and the rest in the outlining space between Mexico and the three states that border us.

It seems that way because it is true.

And while the current Golden Eagle reps are frantically dusting off their resumes — they will all lose their jobs and have to reapply — it looks likely that most will retain their previous positions. This is great because the many people who have supported craft beer in our city will still be in place. But now, they will represent the many brands that Hensley distributes, as well as the Golden Eagle brands we’ve come to expect.

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And one Tucson brewery in particular, Barrio Brewing, may see a new market in its immediate future. As the only local brewery under the Golden Eagle flag, Barrio will probably see additional distribution into the Phoenix market. With what seems like a new brewery opening every week here in Tucson, taking the yellow brick road up into the Phoenix market may turn out to be paved in green.

I imagine other local breweries will soon follow suit. With the backing of AB InBev money, Hensley is positioning itself to be the highest bidder for statewide distribution of our local brands.

Arizona is slowly entering the national scene in terms of craft beer. As much as we love our state breweries, we are behind Colorado, California, Oregon, and Michigan, to name a few states. But as we say goodbye to Four Peaks, our internal pride and joy, we now welcome a new existence of Arizona-based collaboration which will ease our ability to experience new beer from the many talented brewers throughout the state.

Sláinte.

Ty Young has worked in the Arizona Craft beer world for 15 years, including time at 1702, Old Chicago, Casa Film Bar among others. He's also a longtime local journalist reporting for the Tucson Citizen, The Arizona Republican and the Phoenix Business Journal.

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