Merger Creates the Largest Black Owned Brewery in the U.S.

Full Circle Brewing and Speakeasy Ales & Lagers, recently announced a merger that will create the largest Black owned brewery in the United States.

The merger will bring together Full Circle’s portfolio of fruit-forward products such as the Illa and Vibes series and the Sonoma Cider brands with Speakeasy’s traditional set of offerings, including Big Daddy IPA West Coast IPA, Prohibition Ale, and Metropolis hoppy American lager.

“I am excited for the passing of the baton to the next generation of Black Entrepreneurs in the craft beer space,” said Speakeasy CEO Ces Butner. “I will continue to sit on the advisory board and look forward to seeing the Speakeasy brand grow and evolve.”

Full Circle CEO Arthur Moye also expressed his excitement about the merger, saying, “We are excited to apply what we learned from revitalizing Full Circle and increasing sales by 5,000% to San Francisco’s longest-running independent brewery. We plan to breathe new life into current brands and expand its range of products.”

The merger marks Full Circle’s second acquisition of a Bay Area brewery following the acquisition of Sonoma Cider in 2020. It rounds out the portfolio of the Full Circle Brand Family by adding traditional beer styles from Speakeasy’s lineup of brews.

The combined entity will have a production capacity of over 20,000 barrels or around 350,000 cases annually, making it the largest Black-owned brewery in the United States.

Although both brands plan to maintain their existing distribution networks, the company is still determining the future of the Speakeasy taproom and where the brand will be produced.

Fresno-based Full Circle Brewing has been in operation since 2000, with Moye taking ownership of the brewery in 2016, after selling his accounting practice. The brewery’s beer volume reached 2,150 barrels in 2021, according to the Brewers Association’s (BA) May/June 2022 edition of the New Brewer.

Founded in 1997, Speakeasy Ales & Lagers’ output has declined considerably since its 2015 high of 32,673 barrels, according to production data collected by the BA. Its most significant drop-off in recent years took place from 2016-2017, when volume declined from 27,000 barrels to 5,446 barrels. It fell further in 2018, to 2,100 barrels. In 2021, the most recent year for which BA data is available, Speakeasy produced 5,000 barrels.

Butner acquired Speakeasy out of receivership in 2018 and worked to rebuild its distribution network, a part of the industry he was well acquainted with as the former owner of Oakland-based Horizon Beverage. Butner sold Horizon to Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2015, which brought it into its network of wholly owned distributors before selling it to Matagrano, Inc. and Markstein Sales Company last summer.

The merger of these two breweries not only creates a larger Black-owned brewery but also brings together two distinct brewing styles and product portfolios, potentially expanding the reach of both brands.

No financial terms of the transaction were disclosed.




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