Mendocino County's Anderson Valley Brewing to be sold to McGee family of Sonoma County

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The McGee family is purchasing Boonville-based Anderson Valley Brewing Company, known for its Boont Amber Ale and other craft brews, in a deal expected to wrap up Dec. 13.

Entrepreneur and brewer Kevin McGee said he and his family purchased the brewery for an undisclosed sum and plan to retain the existing staff.

According to a statement, Anderson Valley is one of the 75 largest craft breweries in the U.S. and is distributed in over 30 states. It was founded in 1987 when it was one of only 20 craft breweries in the country.

McGee said he plans to invest in the business and focus on building brand equity without peering over the brewers’ shoulders.

“I’ll smell the hops, I’m sure,” he said. “I’m not going to get in the way of any brewers' doing what they do.”

A brewer himself, McGee runs the small-batch Healdsburg Beer Company that he said he started in his garage. A graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, McGee’s background is also steeped in the wine industry. He previously served in a variety of roles for Jackson Family Enterprises, which makes Jackson Family Wines, including as personal operating executive, legal counsel and business strategist to Jess Jackson, the company’s founder, CEO and chairman, until his death in 2011.

McGee also has a background in consulting and private equity. He plans to focus on strengthening Anderson Valley’s brand by focusing on the things that make it unique. He noted the brewery’s environmental focus and investments in solar power as aspects of the business he wants to emphasize.

“It’s giving people out there a feel for who the brewery is, the people behind it,” McGee said.

He is looking to hire a marketing and brand manager early on once the deal is complete. The position would be a new one for Anderson Valley Brewing, he said. Those duties had been performed by outgoing owner Trey White.

“Brand equity and consumer impression of different breweries is going to be more important than things like package design and price point,” McGee said. “If you’re competing for consumer attention at the point where they are staring at different packages in the store, you’re just playing roulette and have probably already lost.”

He said that while he planned to release new and different types of beers, “New items and innovation get attention because they are dynamic,” and “It’s the flagships and core that allow you to run your business.”

“You need to take care of the things that are the substernal providers of your business before you have permission to go out and do some R&D stuff.” McGee added.

McGee’s is not the only craft brewery to focus on brand as of late. In July, Petaluma-based Lagunitas Brewing Company hired Kelly Murnaghan, a former shoe marketing executive at Vans and Converse, as its chief marketing officer.

McGee described himself as a “contrarian” when it comes to his overall assessment of the craft beer market. “Craft is less than 14% of the total beer market,” McGee noted, adding that he sees plenty of room for growth in craft beer brands as opposed to a scramble for limited market share.

In McGee’s view, the industry is “exiting the phase where the sales strategy has been to create a shiny object and try to capture the momentary attention of a consumer.” He added: “The craft beer market seems to have evolved from an adolescent, nascent thing into behaving a lot more like a normalized consumer products market.” While craft breweries previously could grow “by creating liquid and putting it on a truck” the market is more mature now with established brands, McGee said.

In a statement announcing the sale, Tom McCormick, executive director of the California Craft Brewers Association, said of McGee: “He’s always been about quality and his beer reflected that. And he has always cared about the integrity of the industry as a whole. AVBC and the larger craft brewing community will benefit from his vision and leadership.”

Said Brian Hunt, founder of Moonlight Brewing Company. “I’ve known Kevin McGee for many years and I’ve seen in him a dedication to understanding the heart of a business, to figuring out what is right for each individual situation and a passion for quality beer. Kevin and his family will bring continuity and welcome new visions to one of my favorite breweries in a time of great changes in the brewing world.”

When asked what would become of Healdsburg Beer Company, McGee said he would continue it and likely expand its production while moving it to Anderson Valley’s facilities.

“It’s its own smart little animal as a business,” McGee said, noting it would remain a highly allocated small production brand, “It’s a secondary thing … to the extent that I’ve got spare time.”

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