12/23/2015 15:54 EST | Updated 12/23/2016 00:12 EST

Anheuser-Busch buying Breckenridge Brewery, 1 of Colorado's largest craft beer makers

DENVER — One of Colorado's largest and oldest craft breweries is promising beer lovers that nothing will change even though it's being bought by beer giant Anheuser-Busch, a brand many of them love to hate.

Under a deal announced Tuesday, the maker of Budweiser said it was acquiring Breckenridge Brewery for an undisclosed amount and adding it to its craft and import brand unit, The High End.

The deal comes as major beer industry players try to make inroads in a niche market that has captured more than 10 per cent of beer sales in recent years. Last week, Anheuser-Busch, the U.S. arm of Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch InBev, announced it was also buying Tempe, Arizona based craft brewer Four Peaks Brewing Co. In recent years it has also acquired Chicago's Goose Island and Oregon's 10 Barrel Brewing Co. The purchase also comes on the heels of a new plan by In Bev to reward distributors who carry its beers.

In an open letter to supporters, Breckenridge president J. Todd Usry said that the brewery will continue to make its own decisions about the beers it creates and there are no plans to change its employees or culture. He said the deal will allow it to bring its beers to more people.

"I hope you will give us the chance to prove to you over time that we will continue to be Breckenridge Brewery," he said.

A spokeswoman for Anheuser-Busch didn't return an email request for comment.

The sale was a shock to many in Colorado, which considers itself a mecca of independently owned breweries. The online reaction has been mostly scornful, with people accusing Breckenridge of being more interested in money than craft.

Breckenridge, founded in 1990 by a ski bum who made beer at home, has grown to become the sixth-largest craft brewer in a state where many of the professionals that have migrated here love to discuss the latest small-batch beer they've discovered and expect a wide selection of beer on tap.

The brewery started out in the ski town which gave it its name before moving to Denver and then the suburb of Littleton, where it opened a new production facility this year.

For the last four years, the brewery and its restaurants have been part of a joint venture with the Wynkoop Brewing Co. The restaurants, except for ones in Breckenridge and Littleton, are not part of the deal and will continue to be operated by the joint venture.

Usry told the Denver Business Journal that he had no choice but to pursue a sale because, soon after the new facility was finished, the venture's partners told him they were no longer interested in working with a brewery that was becoming as large as Breckenridge, which is expected to produce 70,000 barrels this year. Usry didn't return a call from The Associated Press Wednesday.

Kyle Leingang, a lawyer for Dorsey & Whitney LLP who works on craft brewing mergers and acquisitions, said Anheuser-Busch's strategy seems to be acquiring successful, regionally-focused smaller brewers and its entry into the beer hotspot of Colorado, and the outcry, was inevitable. He said the company's purchase of other small brewers hasn't hurt the quality or the following of their beers.

"InBev is banking on the real definition of craft being higher quality and not who the owner is, and we'll see how that plays out," he said.

Colleen Slevin, The Associated Press