Salmon River Brewery co-owners Matt Ganz and Matt Hurlbutt will never forget the day Adolphus Busch IV walked into their small brewpub and started talking beer.
They had heard from friends that Busch, a member of the St. Louis beer family famous for Budweiser and other top sellers, had tasted their brews and really liked the Udaho Gold ale. He visits Central Idaho every summer to raft and enjoy the pristine wilderness.
But they werent prepared for a visit in 2010 that changed the course of their fledgling business.
Matt Ganz was helping roll sushi at the time when he should have been brewing beer.
(Busch) just walks in and says, Id love to talk to you about your brewery. I couldnt believe it. I totally crushed that sushi roll, Ganz said, laughing.
I was thinking, is this like a prank or something? Hurlbutt said.
Busch had a Udaho Gold for lunch one day. It caught my attention, he told the Statesman. I had it a few more times and pretty much thought it was the best beer Id had in a long, long time.
A river guide told Busch the Salmon River Brewery story. After a few more Udaho Golds another day, Busch decided to stop in and check out the brewery. A friendship developed.
I just got talking with the two Matts, and we got more and more involved, Busch said. I was asking them about their long-term plans, and it just evolved from there. They are just great guys and I feel comfortable with them. Its fantastic getting in from the ground up with these guys.
AN IDEA GUY
Busch now owns 49 percent of the small brewery, which is using the cash infusion to triple its brewing capacity and sell more beer off the site.
(Busch) didnt want control. He is not interested in day-to-day but he is involved in the long-term vision, often consulting about business ideas, Ganz said. This is really exciting for us.
Salmon River has purchased enough new equipment (including brewing tanks and a truck) to go from brewing about 1,000 kegs a year to about 3,500. It has about 40 bar and restaurant accounts in the Boise area and 10 in McCall, and hope to build the Boise market and expand to Ketchum and Twin Falls.
Ganz and Hurlbutt also are considering hand-bottling 22-ounce bombers of Salmon River favorites Udaho Gold, Salmon River Shiver IPA and the Black Happy American Black Ale to sell in good beer stores as a way to expand.
For now, the Matts are concentrating on selling beer in Southwest and Central Idaho. Busch, thinking ahead more, would like to be able to drink an Udaho Gold back home in St. Louis one day, but said he is content to watch the brewery grow at whatever pace the market allows.
All three have talked about contract brewing the Salmon River recipes would be brewed at other locations.
This is an option if sales continue to grow, since Salmon River has pretty much maxed out expansion space with the new equipment it bought. One side of the small Colorado Street building is the pub, the other side is the brewhouse.
Ganz said he understands there is more competition than ever for tap handles in the spud state. The Treasure Valley has nine active breweries (The Ram, TableRock, Sockeye, Highlands Hollow, Payette, Crooked Fence, Kilted Dragon, Slanted Rock and Crescent), with several others in development.
Most of those breweries sell kegs to restaurants and bars as part of their business model plus theres competition for taps from regional craft breweries, such as Deschutes, Sierra Nevada, Stone, Lagunitas and Firestone Walker.
THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Adolphus Busch IV never worked at Anheuser-Busch, but he is intimately familiar with the family business and still owns a piece of an Anheuser-Busch distribution business in Texas. He said he regrets how the Busch family had to cede control of the company to the InBev conglomerate in 2008, which bought Anheuser-Busch for $52 billion.
Anheuser-Busch currently makes 47.7 percent of all beer consumed in the U.S. To put that in perspective, if you were to combine the sales of the approximately 1,900 U.S. craft breweries, that would account for about 6 percent of all U.S. beer sales.
Simply put, it would be hard for someone with the last name Busch to make a more radical transition in the beer business. Its a change he is thrilled to embrace.
The (buyout) had some effect on my decision to invest in Salmon River Brewing, Busch said. I met these guys shortly after that happened. When I had (the Udaho Gold), I thought, if these guys can brew beer this good, think what we could do if we could expand it.
Busch also has an investment in his brother Billys new brewing company in St. Louis, which produces Kräftig Lager and Kräftig Light beers meant to battle the Budweiser/ Miller/Coors heavyweights. Still, Busch feels a little weird about the possibility of selling Salmon River beers in St. Louis when his brothers new company has been open only a year.
I wouldnt want to do anything to compete with Kräftig, Busch said.
After being associated with the big beer business for so long, Busch said he is energized by the do-it-yourself aesthetic and artisanal values associated with craft beer.
Traditional beer sales have been flat over the past few years, but craft beers have grown.
The big brewers are starting to take notice. Anheuser-Busch brews Shock Top Wheat beers and Miller/Coors brews the Blue Moon brands, but you wouldnt know that from the labels. Anheuser-Busch bought a controlling interest in Chicago-based Goose Island in 2012 and owns a piece of the Craft Brewers Alliance, which features Red Hook, Widmer and Kona craft brands.
American public tastes are changing, and that is what concerns (the big brewers), Busch said. But they are not so concerned with craft brands. They are more worried about maximizing profits.
Busch said his family would still be in charge of Anheuser-Busch if his half-brother former CEO August Busch III, who held that post until 2002 had paid more attention to global growth and competition and a little less to the domestic market.
He kept concentrating on the 300 million people in this country, said Busch. He should have paid more attention to the rest of the world.
Patrick Orr: 377-6219, Twitter: @IDS _Orr
Salmon River Brewery co-owner Matt Ganz fills up a sample of the brewery's Buzz Buzz Coffee Porter in their on-site brew-pub.