On April 11, 2022, we were one of the first media outlets to report on an announced merger between Silver Spring’s Silver Branch Brewing and Virginia’s Old Ox Brewing. We have now learned that the deal is off. “Silver Branch and Old Ox have mutually agreed to end our pursuit of a merger. Silver Branch is continuing to explore opportunities to expand, but we don’t have anything to share at this time,” Silver Branch Co-Founder Christian Layke told us via email. So why is the merger not happening? We don’t know, and nobody’s saying anything. [An update from July 12, 2022: Good Beer Hunting’s Kate Bernot reports that a stumbling block to the merger was the fate of Old Ox’s smaller Middleburg location, which Silver Branch thought would be sold.]
From Silver Branch’s perspective, the deal made sense for two reasons: expansion of brewing capacity, which had reached its limits at the Silver Spring brewery, and access to Old Ox’s robust distribution network in Virginia. The latter issue could be resolved by signing with a Virginia beer distribution company–no small feat in its own right–but that doesn’t happen without the former, increasing the amount of beer produced.
In the three months since the merger was announced, the area brewing landscape has changed. We know of at least three potential locations in the District that could provide Silver Branch with a second facility to increase capacity, one in the next few months, the other two in the next few years. Here we engage in some speculation. Three Stars last production day was Thursday, June 30th and the taproom closed on Sunday, July 10th; they own the brewing equipment at 6400 Chillum Place NW in the Lamont-Riggs neighborhood of the District. If both the brewery and the landlord want to move quickly, Silver Branch could buy the on-site equipment from 3 Stars, negotiate with the landlord, and use the space as its main production brewery. At over 25,000 total square feet, there’s ample room for further expansion as well.
Slightly longer term, The Parks at Walter Reed development is actively searching for a brewery partner on the grounds of what was the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The development already boasts a Whole Foods and is on track to build and deliver over 2,000 housing units, an instant customer base. It is also a quick bus, or bike, ride to Silver Branch. Expect to hear more about this site in 2023 regardless. Another location may become available towards the end of 2024. Again, this is speculation, but we know an area brewery intends to open a facility in Ward 8, the first DC brewery east of the Anacostia River, within the next few years, and may vacate a currently-used space, shifting production. More on that later.
Old Ox, on the other hand, wasn’t looking to expand. Rather, the Burns family elders, Graham and Mary Ann, were looking to retire while still retaining an ownership stake. Their son Chris, currently Old Ox President and Co-Owner, was poised to become Director of Sales for the merged Silver Ox operation. Old Ox, with locations in Ashburn and Middleburg, also stood to benefit from the on-premise experience of Silver Branch, and had already begun producing IPAs for the Maryland brewery on a contract. We reached out to Old Ox for a comment as well, and will update this article should they reply.
So what happens next? We know that over the next few year many 10-year leases will be coming up. We know that many area breweries are discussing mergers, acquisitions, and other partnerships, and the next 3 years could be very tumultuous for local breweries. Both Silver Branch and Old Ox remain in business. The former continues their search for a potential expansion, the latter may attempt to partner with another local brewery. As always, we’ll be here to cover it.