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Virtue Cider in Fennville, Mich. Virtue Cider in Fennville, Mich. COURTESY PHOTO

Anheuser Busch affiliate acquires remaining stake in Fennville’s Virtue Cider

BY Monday, September 25, 2017 04:01pm

FENNVILLE — Two years after acquiring a 51-percent stake in Virtue Cider, an entity tied to global brewing conglomerate Anheuser Busch LLC has acquired the remainder of the company.

According to a filing with the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, the Anheuser Busch-owned Fulton Street Beer Co. of Chicago became the 100-percent owner of the company on Aug. 21, buying out the 49-percent stake held by founder Greg Hall and his 30 initial individual and corporate investors.

Trade publication Brewbound first reported the deal today after obtaining a copy of an email that AB-InBev’s High End division President Felipe Szpigel sent out to business partners. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. 

In the email, Szpigel wrote that AB’s 2015 investment in Virtue “quadrupled its cider production, expanded distribution, and solidified a team of more than 30 passionate, creative cider experts,” according to the report.

At the time of the initial investment, Hall told MiBiz that the deal would allow Virtue to tap into Goose Island Beer Co.’s packaging lines and distribution channels in Chicago. (Fulton Street Beer does business under the Goose Island name.)

After the initial deal, Virtue started trucking its finished ciders to the Chicago-based brewery to use its bottling line, which allowed the company to sell its ciders in 12-ounce bottles beginning last year.

The move allowed Virtue to “really worry and focus here on the farm on making cider instead of all the other stuff that doesn’t really add value to what we do,” Hall told MiBiz in 2015.

The 2015 investment also allowed Virtue to catch up on its accounts payable after the company struggled in the first four years of its existence. As the initial deal closed, the U.S. Department of Agriculture lifted sanctions on Hall that prevented him from working in the produce industry because the company failed to pay one of its suppliers for more than $108,000 in apple juice.

“As with a lot of small startup companies, we were playing right on the edge our first couple of years, and we might have gone over it a little bit,” Hall said at the time. “But we caught up with everybody and we’re ready to kind of move forward now.”

This latest investment by Anheuser Busch continues a string of deals involving companies tied to Hall. His father, John Hall, started Goose Island in 1988 and sold it to Anheuser Busch in 2011 for a reported $38 million.

According to the Brewbound report, AB will fully integrate Virtue into its distributor network and move the company’s offices to Chicago. Hall and business partner Stephen Schmakel will still “drive the vision and possibilities for Virtue” and serve on AB’s “craft advisory board,” Brewbound reported.

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