Amid slowing craft beer sales, a Fredericksburg brewery known for its German-style beers has shut down, but the local Uncle Billy’s Brewery has acquired the brand with an undisclosed sum and has moved production of the beers to North Austin.
Pedernales Brewing’s wide range of beers, a lineup that includes the award-winning Lobo line and the Robert Earl Keen-branded series, has now joined the Uncle Billy’s portfolio. Not part of the deal is the Pedernales facility in the Texas Hill Country, which founder Lee Hereford is selling seperately, to another, as-yet-unnamed buyer.
Like Uncle Billy’s canned brews, the award-winning Pedernales products are being made at Celis Brewery’s cutting edge facility and will be distributed throughout both brands’ Texas footprints. Helping to produce the beers is former Pedernales head brewer John West, now at Celis.
Bob Leggett — who purchased Uncle Billy’s from local bar mogul Rick Engel last year — had known Hereford for a number of years before he opened Pedernales, and they had kept in touch.
“He called me in September of last year saying that (Pedernales) had experienced losses in sales,” he said. “They had been good in 2015, but they were down in 2016 and to date in 2017. They were going to have to go out of business. It was obvious they weren't going to make it. Did I know anybody interested in taking them over, or would I be interested?”
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Originally, he wasn’t. The head of one of the largest importers of Belgian beers in the U.S., Artisanal Imports, Leggett had just taken over Uncle Billy’s and was “still trying to get our ducks in a row,” he said. But after no takers for Pedernales and a plea from a distributor friend not to let the brand fade, Leggett reconsidered in early December.
Now, Uncle Billy’s will produce all of the beers that Pedernales had become known for, including the flagship Lobo Texas Lager, the Lobo Negro Schwarzbier, Lobo Hefeweizen, and the award-winning Lobo Octoberfest. The Lobo line was named for the wolves that once roamed the Hill Country.
Country singer Robert Earl Keen will also remain associated with the Pedernales name through his trio of branded beers: Honey Pils, Front Porch Amber Ale and River Raft Beer, a refreshing lager. He and Pedernales began developing the REK line of brews in 2014, when he reached out to Hereford about collaborating on a beer together.
And Hereford won’t be a stranger, either. He’ll stay on hand at least through the end of the year, Leggett said, to help with the transition of ownership and oversee distributor relations.
Pedernales had “been making some great award-winning beers, and people love the Robert Earl Keen connection,” Leggett said, adding that “there are no losers here.”
Eventually, the design of the Lobo brand will get overhauled. For now, however, Leggett doesn’t want to change anything so that people still recognize Pedernales beers on bar and store shelves across the brand’s wide distribution footprint in Texas.
The acquistion has been announced on the heels of news of other shake-ups in the beer industry. Last week, Pflugerville’s one-year-old Idle Vine Brewery broke the news it was closing for good this weekend. And one of the country’s most esteemed breweries, New Belgium, announced cuts of its workforce a few days ago.
“Over the last two years, the growth of craft beer has slowed to single digits while, simultaneously, more than 1,500 new craft breweries have entered the space,” according to the publication, Brewbound, that wrote about New Belgium’s layoffs.
Leggett is well aware of these numbers, but with a few decades in the beer industry through his company Artisanal Imports, he has the wisdom and insight to fight for his brewery.
“We’ve got some really good beers here,” he said.