“It goes back to what we did 24 years ago, naming a beer 420,” Bensch said, referencing slang for marijuana. “I consider myself a visionary in a lot of regards, but to see this actually become a reality is brilliant.”
SweetWater's flagship 420 Extra Pale Ale. (Courtesy of SweetWater Brewing Co.)
Bensch credits Irwin D. Simon, Aphria’s chairman and chief executive officer, with seeing the synergy that could be achieved through the acquisition.
“It allows us to take what we’ve been doing and make it bigger, better, faster,” Bensch said. "The money’s not going to change my life, to be straight-up honest. The most important thing is that I can look in the mirror and say this is a good deal for the business.
“The book opens up and becomes so much more beyond what we’re doing. More importantly, with our employees, nothing changes. Everybody’s jobs are intact and enhanced. Now we’re a brewery that’s part of a cannabis company. People are excited, because the vision is beyond beer now. It’s beer and cannabis and THC and CBD and new facilities.”
Of course, a big part of the ongoing plans for new SweetWater products, such as, say, seltzers with THC, depends on legalization in the U.S. But the brewery is already moving ahead in other areas, including the production of spirits, which are set for release beginning in 2021.
And with Aphria, SweetWater will expand its beer production and distribution to more U.S. states and into Canada.
“To not leverage what Aphria has in Canada right now, from a footprint and brand recognition standpoint, would be a miss,” Bensch said. “Keep in mind, we’re only in 26 states. Now it’s not just building a brewery, it’s building a brewery and what else? And that’s cool, right?”
SweetWater founder and CEO Freddy Bensch. (Courtesy of SweetWater Brewing Co.)
Asked about his day-to-day role in the operation of SweetWater, Bensch said it will largely stay the same, “but the horizon is a lot bigger.”
“The effort is to continue to do what SweetWater does well — kick ass and make great beer, and be innovative, and work with our wholesalers, and be real to our consumers,” he said. “But conversely, now I’ve got this other side that’s screaming cannabis. So what does that look like and what’s the next level?
“This is my baby. It’s the only thing I’ve done for my entire adult life. And I care about what happens to my baby. To know that the story goes on in an even cooler fashion is big to me. To sell and that be the end of the story, or just be swallowed up by one of the big guys, would not be cool. But this is beer and weed. And to me, this is the best potential outcome for SweetWater, and for me, and for our employees.”
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