An independent streak — a key element of Appalachian Mountain Brewery’s founding in 2011 — has inspired its co-founders to take the rare step of buying their freedom from a global conglomerate.
Nathan Kelischek and Chris Zieber have bought the ownership stake of the Boone company from Anheuser-Busch for an undisclosed price.
Kelischek and Zieber, cousins from Asheville, became the first craft brewers “to ever buy themselves back from Anheuser-Busch,” said Hannah Kaminer, a contracted spokeswoman for AMB.
Zieber is head brewer and Kelischek as brewmaster.
The repurchase comes as AMB plans a taproom in Mills River, near Asheville, this summer.
“We’re grateful to have spent the last two years as active founders within A-B’s craft portfolio and want to thank the people at A-B, including our fellow craft brewery founders, for the support, collaboration and friendship that we’ve enjoyed during our time together,” Kelischek and Zieber said.
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“We will be shifting our focus immediately on growing our local team, opening our new taproom and continuing our investment in sustainability and philanthropy efforts that make a difference in our North Carolina communities.
“This all hinges on producing the highest quality products and delivering a unique experience for our customers.”
Kaminer said with just a smidge of hyperbole that “this story is causing shock waves across the craft brewing industry.”
For example, VinePair.com said in a posting that “it’s surprising to see a small brewery purchase its brand back from a beer giant — especially in today’s craft beer market.”
“Acquisitions of craft brands have slowed in the past five years, as large corps find less success in sales.
“Kelischek and Zieber didn’t divulge their reasoning for purchasing the brand back from A-B, but it’s a strategy that stands out among a sea of corporation-held craft beer portfolios.”
AMB has been known for its Long Leaf IPA, Boone Creek Blonde, Mystic Dragon Cider, Spoaty Oaty Pale Ale and Porter brands. It’s also known for its charitable and community initiatives.
For example, AMB has teamed up with several local farms to donate spent grain for the cattle feed.
“This helps us to divert grain from ending up at landfills, and helps local farmers make ends meet saving up to 50-plus tons of feed per year.”
Earlier in May, AMB brought home two medals from at the 2023 World Beer Cup: a gold medal in the Golden or Blonde Ale category for Boone Creek Blonde Ale; and a silver in American-Style Lager category for their Down South Lager.
AMB’s original taproom opened in 2013 and quickly became known for their hospitality and producing balanced crafts with their own Southern twist.
Kelischek is a 2011 graduate of Appalachian State University majoring in environmental science with a minor in chemistry and geology. Zieber graduated with a degree in environmental science from UNC Chapel Hill in 2011.
Craft Brew Alliance Inc. and AMB reached an agreement in April 2015 that gave AMB access to Craft Brew’s distribution channels in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee. That distribution became a major portion of AMB’s revenue stream.
In October 2018, Craft Brew acquired AMB.
Brewbound, a publication focused on the craft beer industry, estimated Craft Brew spent a combined $45 million to buy Appalachian, Wynwood Brewing Co. of Miami, and Cisco Brewers of Nantucket, Mass., during that time frame.
In 2020, Craft Brew Alliance sold to Anheuser-Busch the remaining 68.8% of Craft Brew that it had not already owned for $221 million.
The vast majority of Craft Brew’s brands are distributed through A-B’s network of independent wholesalers per the companies’ commercial agreement.
AMB said it will continues to distribute their beers and ciders throughout the Carolinas with their same wholesale partners and retailers.
In March, AMB helped launch Bojangles into the alcohol business — but not at its restaurants.
They are partnering on Bojangles Hard Sweet Tea, which is distributed through retail supermarkets and convenience stores such as Circle K, QT, Sheetz, Spinx, Harris Teeter, Ingles, Lowes, Walmart, Food Lion and others in the Carolinas.
Bojangles, based in Charlotte, now has about 800 restaurants known for its fried chicken, biscuits and sweet tea.
The hard tea is sold in individual 16-ounce cans and in 12-packs of 12-ounce cans.