A company owned by Japan’s Kirin beer conglomerate has agreed to acquire New Belgium Brewing, marking another major investment by a traditional brewer in craft beer.

Lion Little World Beverages, the largest brewer in Australia, will pay an undisclosed cash amount for the Fort Collins, Colo.-based maker of Fat Tire Amber Ale, which was founded in 1991 by Jordan and Jeff Lebesch and is now the fourth-largest craft brewer in the U.S.

New Belgium is Kirin’s first full brewery acquisition in the U.S. It also owns 24.5% of Brooklyn Brewery, America’s 12th-largest craft brewery.

“This investment in New Belgium … is a pretty significant stake in the ground in terms of the U.S.,” Matt Tapper, managing director of Lion, told the Denver Post, adding that Lion is hoping to “work with the New Belgium team to establish a pretty significant craft beverage business.”

The deal comes only a week after Anheuser-Busch InBev reached an agreement to acquire Kona-maker Craft Brew Alliance outright.

The craft brewing market has “become considerably more competitive in recent years, particularly for regional brewers with a widely distributed footprint and significant capacity,” Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, said.

“Every brewer will make their own independent decision about how to respond to this competitive market, and we’ve seen a number of independent brewers choose acquisition by a strategic partner as their route,” he added.

New Belgium produced just under 850,000 barrels of beer in 2018, a decline of 11% from the previous year. It has more than 300 employees and is 100% employee-owned.

Jordan wrote in a message to customers that New Belgium considered various options to raise capital while remaining independent brewer but “some of the most widely used options by craft brewers were going to compromise a lot about what makes New Belgium great: environmental sustainability and a rich internal culture.”

“Having the support and resources of Lion Little World Beverages  allows us to attend to those competing priorities and utilize our brewery capacity to its fullest,” she said.

Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via Getty Images

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