Even during a beer festival, sobering news for the Las Vegas craft beer scene: Last year, Denver, Colorado-based Miller International Inc. purchased Henderson’s Joseph James Brewing Co. And on October 11, executives ousted the brewing company’s co-founder, Matt Lisowski. Lisowski and his team were attending Denver’s annual Great American Beer Festival when the news was delivered.
“There are no words,” Lisowski said, when reached by phone later that evening. But he found the words, and praised Las Vegas’ only production brewery in an email to industry contacts and friends:
“I have been proud to be a part of Joseph James Brewing. I am currently looking for other opportunities in the beverage industry, and will let everyone know where I end up. Please continue to support Joseph James Brewing. They produce world-class beers, and only great things will come from this brewery. Thank you for everyone’s support!”
Parent company Miller International’s Andrea Allison has been left in charge for the time being, as well as Joseph James’ head brewer, Matt Marino, along with brewers Kyle Weniger and Weston Barkley.
“Do they make great beer? I would never have hired each and every one of them if I didn’t think so,” Lisowski said of the Joseph James brewing team.
Lisowski’s final act at the company, selling to Miller International, would appear to have set it up for future success, albeit without himself at the helm. Buoyed by the infusion of capital, the brewery underwent an expansion this summer that increased brewing capacity by 75 percent. Joseph James is distributed in 15 states, with Colorado and New York slated to come on line by January 1, 2014.
The company has also been migrating its bottled beers to cans, and on October 2, launched a partnership with Smashburger to sell six of its beers at the fast-casual burger chain’s eight Southern Nevada locations. “America is quickly adopting a more European approach to the aesthetics of food,” Smashburger founder Tom Ryan told Vegas Seven on the day of the launch, “and craft brewers are at the center of that … creating beers for the next generation—diversity, uniqueness, pure joy of innovation—and Joseph James is right there with the best of them.”
The next phase of the brand’s expansion—a complete marketing revamp, from renaming the beers to re-doing the logos—is slated for March 2014.
Miller International also owns Rocky Mountain Clothing Co., Earp’s Western Dinner Sauce and other businesses. The company’s chairman and CEO, David Dean, purchased Joseph James Brewing Co. in 2012, and has been the brewery’s president and CEO since last September. Emails to Allison and Dean regarding the change in leadership were not immediately returned.
Lisowski and his father started Joseph James in 2007, and made non-alcoholic sodas for a time before all the licenses came through. The brewery is named for the second youngest of Lisowski’s eight brothers and sisters, Joseph James Lisowski, who has Asperger’s syndrome. According to Matt Lisowski, 10 cents of every gallon of Joseph James beer or soda sold goes to the National Foundation for Autism. But without a founder involved, that and many other particulars of the once family-owned, independent brewery remain uncertain.