Wolaver's buys Otter Creek

Producer of organic beers to move headquarters to Vermont

June 10, 2002 - Panorama Brewing Co., producer of the Wolaver's brand of organic beers, has purchased Vermont's Otter Creek Brewing.


Company co-founder and treasurer Morgan Wolaver said Otter Creek will be the "surviving entity" and the new brewing operation will be located in Otter Creek's Middlebury headquarters. Wolaver's previously operated out of Nevada City, Calif.

Founded in 1997, Panoram's production of Wolaver's beers grew from 2,000 barrels (31 gallons) in 1998 to an estimated 6,000 barrels in 2002. The Wolaver brand is sold in 25 states. Its beer has been produced under contract by several different breweries, mostly recently Mendocino Brewing in California and Otter Creek.

"You just want to keep growing," said Wolaver, who said all 38 Otter Creek employees would be retained. "I don't want to buy it just to turn it around in five years and sell it as though it was a stock."

The Otter Creak brand also has fared well recently, surging from 8,000 barrels sold in 1995 to about 25,000 last year. However, founder Lawrence Miller, 38, wanted to spend more time with his growing family. "I'm not going away. I will continue to participate in product development and technological evolution, and serve as a director helping the company to continue to thrive," said Miller, who started the brewery 13 years ago.

Miller told the Addison County Independent that other companies might not have kept his employees, nor was he sure of their commitment to quality. "They (the others) were qualified from a financial perspective ... but weren't qualified from a continuity perspective," he said. "This is a great opportunity for the employees of the company, because all of the folks that are there in management will get additional responsibility."

Wolaver said the purchase makes sense in several ways. "Because we don't have a facility we don't really have roots," he said. "Now, not only do we have a facility, have ownership and roots, we also get to buy into a facility that is already in place for us and is selling our product. Producing and selling it. That's huge. You don't have to go through and train people."

Vermont's reputation for quality in food products should also help expand Wolaver's in what Wolaver called the "an emerging high-growth organic segment" within the beer business.

"Otter Creek fields a good reputation for excellence within specialty beer, and that has value for the growth of both Otter Creek and Wolaver's brands," Wolaver said. "But also Vermont has a tremendous specialty food reputation, and that supports the expansion of the organic line nationally, as well."

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