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Twenty years after doing the unthinkable - launching a beer company in Anheuser-Busch's backyard - the two founders of Schlafly beer are handing over the keys of the beloved St. Louis Brewery.

For Tom Schlafly and Dan Kopman, the sale to a group of 13 local investors is more about retirement planning than selling out or cashing in.

"We're very happy - and, in many respects, relieved - that the succession framework we outlined 18 months ago is exactly what wound up happening," Kopman said. "We kept our focus narrow by only considering local investors who were passionate about St. Louis and adamant about keeping our business here."

The new ownership group, led by a Clayton-based private equity firm, will acquire a 60 percent stake in the brewery. Wednesday's sale announcement comes a week after the craft brewery celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The deal is expected to close in several months, after state and federal alcohol regulators approve the change of ownership. Kopman will continue to run day-to-day operations at the brewery, which employs 170 people.

Schlafly and Kopman, who started pursuing a succession plan in June 2010, will retain minority ownership stakes and will stay on as chairman and CEO, respectively. Some brewery employees will be eligible to buy into a 10 percent piece of the business.

The investors are led by John Lemkemeier and Wesley Jones, co-founders and managing partners of Clayton-based Sage Capital LLC, and J. Spencer Finney, a Sage Capital partner. When the sale closes, the brewery's board members will be Schlafly, Kopman, Lemkemeier, Jones and Finney.

"As a St. Louisan, I have a tremendous fondness for the industry and heritage that beer has provided this town," said Jones, a St. Louis Country Day School graduate. "To get to be a part of that is both a privilege and an honor."

Jones' principal partners also have St. Louis ties. Lemkemeier is a St. Louis native who attended John Burroughs School. Finney has lived here since graduating from Washington University's Olin School of Business in 2005.

Other investors include David Schlafly, who is Tom Schlafly's first cousin, David Anderson, Bob Balk, Parker Condie Jr., Bob Glatz, Bob Hermann Jr., Tom Hillman, Craig Hoagland, Bruce Olson and Bill Polk.

This will be the group's first foray into the brewing business. Founded in 2004, Sage also owns Overland-based Store Supply Warehouse, a major distributor of store fixtures and supplies.

The brewery deal is the firm's fourth investment. The new owners said they plan to keep the regional brewery's focus on St. Louis; about 80 percent of Schlafly beer is sold in the St. Louis area.

"We basically look to buy companies that fit in our specific size range, provide a great product or service, have prospects for long-term growth and success, and have a strong management team already in place," Lemkemeier said. "Schlafly certainly meets every aspect of that criteria."

Jenn Litz, editor of the trade publication Craft Business Daily, said private equity firms have grown increasingly interested in small and regional breweries because they are "fun and iconic" as well as smart investments.

"The dollars at play are what's really attractive," Litz said. "If craft (beer) is 5 percent of volume and 7 percent of dollars of a $95 billion U.S. beer market - and people are saying it could double or triple that in a few decades - you're talking about billions at play."

The brewery, founded in December 1991, reported 2011 revenue of about $15 million. It operates two brew pubs, the Schlafly Tap Room downtown and Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood. Last year, the brewery sold about 42,000 barrels of Schlafly beer, a 20 percent increase in volume from the previous year. It was the 42nd-largest U.S. craft brewery by volume in 2010, the latest year for which data are available.

The parties declined to disclose the sale's financial terms. Tom Schlafly, who currently holds about 75 percent ownership, will retain 20 percent of the company after the sale. Kopman's stake will be reduced to 10 percent from 20 percent. A few original investors, including Kopman's father, will give up their 5 percent stake.

Offering an employee stock option was a cornerstone of the succession plan Schlafly and Kopman had in mind. Schlafly, 63, and Kopman, 50, wanted employees to own a piece of the company before the founders eventually retire; neither one has family members interested in taking over the company. Details of the employee stock plan are still being finalized.

"All along we've tried to be as transparent as possible about this with the people who matter most to us: our employees and customers," Kopman said. "I'd say the general mood around here is very, very excited." Twenty years after doing the unthinkable -- launching a beer company in Anheuser-Busch's back yard -- the two founders of Schlafly beer are handing over the keys of the beloved St. Louis Brewery.

For Tom Schlafly and Dan Kopman, the sale to a group of 13 local investors is more about retirement planning than selling out or cashing in.

"We're very happy -- and, in many respects, relieved -- that the succession framework we outlined 18 months ago is exactly what wound up happening," Kopman said. "We kept our focus narrow by only considering local investors who were passionate about St. Louis and adamant about keeping our business here."

The new ownership group, led by a Clayton-based private-equity firm, will acquire a 60-percent stake in the brewery. Wednesday's sale announcement comes a week after the craft brewery celebrated its 20th anniversary.

The deal is expected to close in several months, after state and federal alcohol regulators approve the change of ownership. Kopman will continue to run day-to-day operations at the brewery, which employs 170 people.

Schlafly and Kopman, who started pursuing a succession plan in June 2010, will retain minority ownership stakes and will stay on as chairman and CEO, respectively. Some brewery employees will be eligible to buy into a 10-percent piece of the business.

The investors are led by John Lemkemeier and Wesley Jones, co-founders and managing partners of Clayton-based Sage Capital LLC, and J. Spencer Finney, a Sage Capital partner. When the sale closes, the brewery's board will be Schlafly, Kopman, Lemkemeier, Jones and Finney.

"As a St. Louisan, I have a tremendous fondness for the industry and heritage that beer has provided this town," said Jones, a St. Louis Country Day School graduate. "To get to be a part of that is both a privilege and an honor."

Jones' principal partners also have St. Louis ties. Lemkemeier is a St. Louis native who attended John Burroughs School. Finney has lived here since graduating from Washington University's Olin School of Business in 2005.

Other investors include David Schlafly, who is Tom Schlafly's first cousin, David Anderson, Bob Balk, Parker Condie Jr., Bob Glatz, Bob Hermann Jr., Tom Hillman, Craig Hoagland, Bruce Olson and Bill Polk.

This will be the group's first foray into the brewing business. Founded in 2004, Sage also owns Overland-based Store Supply Warehouse, a major distributor of store fixtures and supplies.

The brewery deal is the firm's fourth investment. The new owners said they plan to keep the regional brewery's focus on St. Louis; about 80 percent of Schlafly beer is sold in the St. Louis metro area.

"We basically look to buy companies that fit in our specific size range, provide a great product or service, have prospects for long-term growth and success, and have a strong management team already in place," Lemkemeier said. "Schlafly certainly meets every aspect of that criteria."

Jenn Litz, editor of the trade publication Craft Business Daily, said private-equity firms have grown increasingly interested in small and regional breweries because they are "fun and iconic" as well as smart investments.

"The dollars at play are what's really attractive," Litz said. "If craft (beer) is 5 percent of volume and 7 percent of dollars of a $95 billion U.S. beer market, and people are saying it could double or triple that in a few decades, you're talking about billions at play."

The brewery, founded in December 1991, reported 2011 revenue of about $15 million. It operates two brewpubs, the Schlafly Tap Room downtown and Schlafly Bottleworks in Maplewood. Last year, the brewery sold about 42,000 barrels of Schlafly beer, a 20-percent increase in volume from the previous year. It was the 42nd largest U.S. craft brewery by volume in 2010, the latest year for which data are available.

The parties declined to disclose the sale's financial terms. Tom Schlafly, who currently holds about 75 percent ownership, will retain 20 percent of the company after the sale. Kopman's stake will be reduced to 10 percent from 20 percent. A few original investors, including Kopman's father, will give up their 5 percent stake.

Offering an employee stock option was a cornerstone of the succession plan Schlafly and Kopman had in mind. Schlafly, 63, and Kopman, 50, wanted employees to own a piece of the company before the founders eventually retire; neither one has family members interested in taking over the company. Details of the employee stock plan are still being finalized.

"All along we've tried to be as transparent as possible about this with the people who matter most to us: our employees and customers," Kopman said. "I'd say the general mood around here is very, very excited."