Australia’s $4 billion beer market has seen a swift – and surprising – shake-up today as the country’s beer behemoth, Lion acquires 100% of Byron Bay-founded brewer Fermentum – the company behind not only Stone & Wood, but also Melbourne’s Two Birds, seltzer brand Sunly, Fixation, and Little Dragon. While the value of the newly announced deal remains undisclosed, reports are claiming this as one of the country’s most expensive craft beer buy-outs, at an estimated $500 million.
Currently, Fermentum, which was founded in 2008 by Jamie Cook, Brad Rogers, and Rosee Jurisich, represents a hefty 1% of Australia’s entire craft beer industry and is best known for its flagship Stone & Wood and their ubiquitous Pacific Ale.
Stone & Wood also used to be a bastion of independence in the craft brewing market, but something has obviously changed as, despite their 2012 declaration of independence still being live on their website, the brand is soon to be skulled by the same giant behind massive labels like Tooheys, XXXX, James Squire, and Little Creatures.
Stone & Wood only recently announced some ambitious expansion plans, which include a $50 million, 200 hectolitre brewhouse in Murwillumbah, as well as a potential IPO. By all indications, all of that is still going to go ahead, and Lion Australia’s MD James Brindley has said that the company would continue to be a “unique player” in Australia’s drinks industry under the Lion banner, as per a report this morning by Sydney Morning Herald.
“We have huge respect for what Jamie Cook, Brad Rogers, Ross Jurisich and the team have created; great beer, wonderful brands, spiritual homes in their breweries and taprooms, an inclusive culture and a commitment to the community,” Brindley quotes in the SMH.
“We want to grow what they’ve started, giving their people and beers even more reach across the country.”
While it’s hard to see how Stone & Wood could be given any more reach, seeing as the brand is almost always an overarching presence at every major Australian pub, hotel, and bottle shop, this deal could bode well for the growth of Two Birds, Fixation, and Little Dragon in particular. Given the seltzer market picks up dramatically every time summer is on the horizon, Sunly should also see a swift uptick with Lion’s backing.
Cook has already offered a few comments on the news today, which is easily the biggest shockwave to the Australian craft beer industry since Carlton & United Breweries forked out $200 million for Gold Coast-based craft brewer Balter, as part of a buying spree that also saw the company swallow up 4Pines and Pirate Life.
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“We only looked for a custodian who could be committed to building the brewery and to support our work in the community,” said the co-founder.
“Not only did Lion welcome these ideas with enthusiasm, they demonstrated they have similar values and a focus on environmental and social governance aligned to our ‘force for good’ approach.”
In the 2020 financial year, Fermentum reported revenue of $62 million and a profit of $5.1 million. This was down substantially from the previous year, clearly constrained due to the obvious impact lockdowns have had on pubs and hotels across Australia.
Lion’s proven track record of growing businesses is tough to deny, despite the inevitable backlash from the craft beer community citing how another independent hero has fallen. Little Creatures and New Belgium Brewing have done very well under the company’s stewardship, as have Four Pillars.
We’ll have to wait and see what the Stone & Wood Lion takeover means for Australia’s independent brewing scene moving forward.