After having secured a strong position in the craft beer markets in Australia, New Zealand and UK, Japanese brewer Kirin is now prepared to conquer the U.S. craft beer market through its Australian subsidiary Lion.
The company has chosen longtime U.S. craft beer veteran Simon Thorpe to manage the expansion. The former Pabst Brewing CEO, who has also helped Duvel Moortgat over 7 years to build up their U.S. craft business, has been hired as managing director for Lion USA as of April 2019. Lion, the largest brewer in Australia and New Zealand and since 2009 fully owned by Kirin Holdings Company, has been chosen to lead the worldwide expansion of Kirin’s craft beer business.
Thorpe will report to Matt Tapper, the managing director of Lion Global Markets (LGM). LGM was launched in 2015 “to take Lion’s Australian and New Zealand craft beers and ciders into new international markets, and accelerate the growth of [the] wine business in North America,” as stated on Lion’s website. However, since its start LGM has been increasingly developed into a platform for buying leading craft beer breweries in strategic markets all over the world.
One of Thorpe’s first tasks will be to open later this summer a microbrewery and restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission Bay district. The new site will operate under the Little Creatures brand name, an Australian brewing company established in 2000 in Fremantle, Western Australia, and since 2012 part of Lion. In 2013, Little Creatures opened a new brewery in Geelong in the Australian state of Victoria. Since then several other Little Creature sites were opened overseas in Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai. The first European site with a six-hectolitre brewery, taproom and restaurant is soon to open in London, UK.
The new head of Lion’s U.S. bsiness is considered to be an M&A specialist, which might help him in his new role. People close to the matter believe, that Kirin is willing to spend larger amounts for leading U.S. craft beer breweries, a similar approach which has helped Lion in the last years to play a leading role in the craft beer scene in Australia, New Zealand and UK (inside.beer, 10.4.2019).
Since 2016, Kirin itself owns a 24.5% stake in Brooklyn Brewery, the 12th-largest craft brewer by volume in the United States (inside.beer, 12.10.2016). Brooklyn itself holds undisclosed minority positions in Funkwerks Brewing in Fort Collins/Colorado and 21st Amendment Brewery in northern California's Bay Area and has formed with them nearly two years ago a sales and distribution partnership network (inside.beer, 26.7.2017). It does not need much fantasy to imagine that Brooklyn and its affiliates would be a perfect platform to expand Kirin’s U.S. craft beer business.