Exclusive: New Belgium Brewing explores sale - sources

(Reuters) - Employee-owned New Belgium Brewing Company, which owns craft beer brand Fat Tire, is looking for a buyer that could the value the U.S. company at more than $1 billion, according to people familiar with the matter.

A sale of New Belgium would be the latest in a string of deals in the craft beer industry. Big beer companies are increasingly looking to boost their business by acquiring upstart craft breweries to combat their own declining sales.

Advisory firm Lazard Middle Market is advising New Belgium on the potential sale, sources said this week. Lazard Middle Market declined to comment while New Belgium did not respond to requests for comment.

Craft beer companies often command rich valuations. Earlier this year, U.S. beer maker Lagunitas Brewing Co was acquired by Dutch brewing company Heineken NV, while Sculpin IPA-owner Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits was sold to Constellation Brands Inc for around $1 billion.

In the case of Ballast Point, the deal valued it at over 30 times its 12-month earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), according to sources who asked not to be named because the figure is not public.

New Belgium is entirely owned by its employees.

Fat Tire is named for the “fat tires” founder Jeff Lebesch rode on his bike through Belgium as a young homebrewer. Lebesch later made Belgian inspired beers in his basement, which ultimately served as the foundation for New Belgium. His wife, Kim Jordan, became New Belgium’s CEO.

Lazard Middle Market frequently advises on craft beer deals, including the sale of Oskar Blues Brewery to an affiliate of Fireman Capital and Mill Street Brewery to Labatt Brewing Company, among other transactions.

Reporting by Lauren Hirsch and Olivia Oran in New York