The motto of Fort Pierce-based Southern Eagle Distributing goes like this: “Making friends is our business.”
That might be good news for scores of people in Palm Beach County at risk of losing their jobs in the impending sale of a local, longtime beer distribution business.
Brown Distributing Company, which has operated in West Palm Beach since 1984, will be selling its beverage distribution territory to two companies, Southern Eagle president Philip Busch confirmed Tuesday. The other buyer is Gold Coast Beverage, which serves the South Florida region, he said.
So as the Treasure Coast beer distributor moves to conclude a deal with Brown Distributing to expand its domain south, Southern Eagle aims to make good on its word to Palm Beach County customers — and potentially new employees.
The deal-making is why Brown Distributing has told the state it plans to lay off 89 employees this month and 188 employees in December.
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The sale to Gold Coast is moving forward this month, while Fort Pierce-based Southern Eagle Distributing is negotiating a deal set to be finalized in December for the remainder of the territory, Busch said.
While the parties are still in talks, Busch said Brown’s employees have been “on the top of our minds” and Southern Eagle is “looking to bring on as many of their people as possible.”
The Palm Beach Post has reached out to Reyes Beer Division, which owns Gold Coast, and Brown Distributing for comment but has not received any replies.
A distributor must buy brand distribution rights in order to sell a particular manufacturer’s product in a certain area, said Mitch Rubin, executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association. These rights are sold for the smallest of breweries to the largest of beer conglomerates.
Distributors are a jack of all trades, in a sense. They’re responsible for marketing the product, transporting it to customers, even cleaning tap lines, Rubin said.
“The beer becomes our baby, to then grow it up into a teenager in the territory that we serve,” Rubin said.
One part of the sale, which will be divided between the two buying companies, is Brown’s brand rights for local and regional craft beers.
Gold Coast will acquire Brown’s craft beer territory between Palm Beach County and Key West, Busch said. The company — owned by Reyes Beer Division, a subsidiary of Illinois-based Reyes Holdings, since 2015 — has facilities in Pompano Beach in Broward, Doral in Miami-Dade and Rockland Key in Monroe County.
Reyes Beer bills itself as the largest beer distributor in the United States, delivering 228 million cases each year. Reyes Beer also acquired Orlando-based Florida Distributing Company in 2011.
But since 2018, the company has stepped up the pace of buying up distributors, acquiring multiple wholesalers each year between Maryland and California, according to its website.
Fort Pierce distributor Southern Eagle is slated to acquire the craft beer territory north of Gold Coast’s. The other part of the sale is Brown’s Anheuser-Busch territory, set to go to Southern Eagle.
Brown Distributing and Southern Eagle had similar origins.
When Anheuser-Busch’s Florida territory was split up in 1984, Busch’s father Peter — who is a descendant of the brewing conglomerate’s co-founder Aldolphus Busch — bought the brand rights for the Treasure Coast while Larry Brown bought it in Palm Beach County, Busch said.
Southern Eagle continues to distribute Anheuser-Busch products in the Treasure Coast area.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for us,” Busch said. “Our hope is everything goes through.”
Hannah Morse is a reporter covering Palm Beach County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4833. Follow her on Twitter at @mannahhorse.