Full Sail Brewing Co. proudly touts its ownership on beer labels. Independent, it reads. “47 employee owners.” That’s the number of people who worked at the Hood River, OR, brewery in 1999, the year the brewery went to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP).
The number today of employee owners—called shareholders—is 78, and on Tuesday Founder & CEO Irene Firmat and Executive Brewmaster Jamie Emmerson sent a letter to those folks, asking them to vote on a proposal to merge with a San Francisco-based investment firm.
Comprised of Encore Consumer Capital and local Oregon investors calling themselves the Oregon Craft Brewers Co., the group first approached Full Sail last September with an offer.
“If we have an offer that’s this good, we really have to take it to our employees to vote on it,” said Firmat in a telephone conversation this afternoon with All About Beer Magazine. The terms of the offer were not disclosed.
In a letter to shareholders, Firmat and Emmerson, said the “partnership ensures the value of our culture, our commitment to quality, our brands, and most importantly, our people. It strengthens Full Sail for the future in this highly competitive marketplace and enables us to honor our financial commitments to our employees and keep our company independent.”
Firmat noted in an interview that the investors do not have a brewing background, so they will need the existing employees with their wide range of expertise to stay on and helm Full Sail. If the vote is successful, Firmat and Emmerson plan on staying at the brewery they founded in 1987.
Shareholders were given ballots earlier today and those votes will be tallied at the end of the month. If approved, the investors could take ownership by mid-March.
For the existing shareholders there will be a stock-option plan, but it will no longer be an ESOP company, but Firmat said it will enable employees to benefit along with the company as it continues to grow.
“Our new partners share our values and their expertise with high growth consumer brands will provide a strong platform for our future,” wrote Firmat and Emmerson. “We could not be more proud to deliver on the promise we made to our employees in 1999 while ensuring Full Sail will stay true to our core values in the future.”
Full Sail produced 115,000 barrels of beer in 2014.