Is this the new logo for 312? (+322 is the international code for Belgium, home of AB parent InBev.) Image used with permission from Jeff Cagle.

Sparging the News: Our Take on the Goose Island Buyout By Anheuser-Busch InBev

In Beer News by Karl11 Comments

Could this be 312's new logo? (+322 is the international calling code for Belgium, home of AB parent InBev.) Image used with permission from Jeff Cagle.*

KARL: The news of Goose Island being bought out by Anheuser-Busch seems to have taken a similar emotional path throughout many in the brewer-verse this morning.  Just before 9am, John Hall announced that Goose Island was to be sold to A-B for 38.8 million dollars.  At that precise moment, a wave of moderate shock resounded through the Twitterati, almost immediately downgraded to “mild” and followed up quickly with resignation.  Put into one word?  Bummer.  When AB bought a stake in Goose back in 2007 2006 (what’s a year between friends?) I’m pretty sure we all expected this day to happen.  Now it’s here, and we have to deal with it.

Assuming that we’re mostly in the “acceptance phase” of Buyout Day, we’re watching opinions flying about regarding what the purchase means for the future of Goose Island as a whole, what it means for Chicagoans specifically, and about what the AB-InBev influence will have on GI.  One point: While most of the stories have been talking about AB’s role in this whole deal, remember that they’re run by Belgian superbrewerconglomeratemonster InBev.  If your dollars were staying in Chicago previously, don’t get fooled into thinking they’re just going to St. Louis now – at the end of the day, those bucks are headed to Brussels.

Here’s a quick list of questions off the top of our head that we’d love to have an answer to.  Afterwards, a bit of our perspective.

1)  First and foremost, what will really happen with the way existing beers are made?  With main brewer Greg Hall out, how long until we start seeing things like corn and rice make its way into Honkers and 312 as cost savers?  How long until corners start being cut?  Leffe Blonde is owned by AB.  Leffe Blonde is now made with corn.  Were monks making it like that in the 1100s?  Our guess is “no.”

2)  Will Goose Island suffer from AB “guilt by assocation?”  Now that AB has purchased a major craft beer brand, does that do more to influence perception of AB by the 95% of the market that isn’t a craft beer fan?  Or does it do more to impugn the reputation of GI by the people that have always known and appreciated their craft?

3)  The brewpubs apparently will remain independent – but with that independence comes uncertainty.  Will they be able to remain economically viable without the GI retail sales arm of the company?  Can the Clybourn location continue to be able to make the pub-only offerings that kept people coming back or will concessions need to be made?

4)  How long does John Hall stay as president and CEO?  Now that they’ve been bought out, how long will it take for someone to crunch the numbers and decide that that layer of management is unnecessary?

5)  It’s good that AB will be throwing money into expansion and keeping brewing operations local.  But, again, how long do we expect that will continue before someone decides that consolidations is a better expense, and all of a sudden 312 is being brewed in the 314?

While we don’t want to appear Chicken Little-esque, these are honest concerns for what we fear might end up happening – and we doubt we’re alone.

Here’s a prediction:  Goose Island will essentially become the next national Sam Adams (excusing for the moment that Sam Adams remains an independent brewer itself).  A few fairly generic main brands that you can get pretty much anywhere.  (Honkers and Summertime will probably grow exponentially.  Look for 312 to move to become Blue Moon Part Deux, if not rebranded completely.)  A few occasional seasonals that aren’t too crazy (or too great).  A market position of being technically “craft beer” but lacking the care and individuality that is the hallmark of a good craft brew.  And everyone will make a lot of money.

The good news is that if you’re really turned off by GI’s newer, bigger connection to the Patron Saints of Beer Genericism, Chicago hasn’t had this many other craft beer options since Prohibition.  (And while we’re on the subject, have you considered Save The Craft today?)  Metropolitan, Half Acre, Revolution Brewing, Haymarket and more would be happy to have more of your business.  If you want to keep your money and your drinking habits local, honestly, it’s really never been easier.

For example:

Like Honkers?  Try a Half Acre Gossamer.

Like 312?  Try a Flossmoor Stationmaster Wheat.

Enjoy a Green Line IPA?  Give Daisy Cutter a try.  Fan of Summertime?  Check out Metro’s Krankshaft Kolsch.  Have a Two Brothers Atom Smasher for the Harvest Ale.  Gonna miss the Mild Winter?  Give Over Ale a shot.  We could do this all day.

At the end of all this, will the deal be a bad thing for Chicago’s craft brew scene?  It’s not great, but it’s not completely unexpected.  (And if we’re really being honest, I had mentally put Goose Island in the macrobrew category years ago.) But it could work out great for the little guys still doing it the way it was meant to be done.

I recently swung by Metropolitan Brewing for the first time.  It’s whole operation is 3 main players running the day-to-day stuff, supplemented by a few volunteers.  I watched them labeling every bottle by hand, filling each bottle in small batches, and packing it up the old fashioned way – carrying each case to the pallet by hand.  I know I’ll remain in the minority for a while to come, but it’s the little guys like them who I’ll continue to get behind.  Yeah, I’ll probably still have a 312 every now and again, but I’m looking forward to seeing who steps up and takes their place – and whoever it is, they’ll have far more of my support.

*Jeff’s site is located here, btw.  Captions are anti-linking for some reason.

About the Author
Karl

Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Time Out Chicago and more. He also helms the GDB social media outreach and prefers a good porter over just about anything.

Comments

  1. JimTheBeerGuy

    Hi Karl. A thoughtful take. I may not be surprised but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be disappointed. The backlash against those of us expressing our disappointment is troublesome but also, I guess, not unexpected.

    Looking forward to your anti-DLD post. Does this mean you guys won’t be wanting me to trade you another bottle this year? :-P

  2. JD

    Hi Karl,

    Just wanted to say your post is narrow minded, protectionist, and uninformed, but everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if incorrect.

    Leffe blonde is owned by InBev, not AB. Leffe was Interbrew’s before InBev even existed, and I’d love to see you cite the source who told you corn is being used in Leffe recipe’s now.

    Goose production issues are nothing new, and they have had to brew their beers in multiple breweries across the US because of multiple problems. AB’s investment in the brewery is probably the only thing keeping them viable in Chicago, not having to shift production to New Hampshire (http://chicagobreakingbusiness.com/2011/02/goose-island-outsources-honkers-india-pale-ale.html)

    AB wants to support the operations of an already great brewery, while sharing synergies that make both companies better. Just because something is “small” doesn’t make it good and just because something is “big” doesn’t make it bad. Many times the contrary is actually the case.

    Let’s at least try to take an objective view of what seems to be a great business and beer deal for two admirable brewers, before bashing “the man” without any real justification… but that’s just my opinion.

  3. Karl Author
    Karl

    Hi, JD,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Just wanted to say your post appears to be bought and paid for by AB, as is your blog, but everyone is indeed entitled to their own opinion, and I’d love to know where yours differs from your bosses, whom you breathlessly describe as the “wealthiest and most influential businesspeople on this planet.” So when you’re talking about me being “protectionist,” let’s at least acknowledge your own inclinations towards it as well.

    I’ll accept your criticism that Leffe belonged to Interbrew first, fair enough. (Despite them being described as an AB brand on the AB website. Splitting hairs.) But guess who says they’ve been using some version of corn, be it corn sugar, corn starch or any other corn substitute? Leffe’s own website, as well as this Leffe factsheet, distributed by your own company. That’s who “told me.”

    Leffe website

    Fact sheet (link goes to .pdf)

    Ask any craft brewer where corn belongs in the brewing process.

    Inre: production issues, GI could have taken the route of Surly, Dogfish Head and New Glarus and restrained distribution to prevent those production issues and to maintain quality control, had they chosen to. Obviously I don’t dispute GI’s right to do what they choose and if they want to expand like crazy on the back of an AB distribution deal, that’s their prerogative. Business is business. But to imply that it’s the only option out there is to simply not know what’s going on in beer right now.

    AB’s “support” is for the money GI can make them, with the craft and the art coming way later. That’s the objective truth, and anything that can be perceived as “bashing the man” does indeed come with a healthy dose of “real justification,” unlike your argument.

    Just out of curiosity, what’s your favorite craft beer?

    And thanks for reading the site.

  4. Pingback: Goose Island Bought Out by Anheuser-Busch | Chitown On Tap

  5. Koolztop

    Karl, your take on today’s news is the most insightful I’ve read yet. Thanks for your thoughts. (I smelled a rat in JD’s post almost instantly, as well.) Let’s all cross our fingers and hope for the best.

  6. JD

    Hey Karl,

    Thanks for your reply. Didn’t mean to seem attacking, just bothers me to perceive that opinions are less based in fact, and more in idealism that I just frankly don’t agree with.

    Just a few responses:
    1. My posts, and my opinions are my own personal ones, not “bought” or “paid for” by anyone. Technically it seems that WordPress.com actually “paid for” my blog by graciously hosting it. It, too, reflects my own thoughts, experiences, which are the culmination of my entire life, not so simply defined by one aspect of it, as I’d hope would be the case for anyone expressing their own thoughts on whatever forum.

    2. I was referring to the Board of Directors of the biggest beer company in the world as some of the “wealthiest and most influential businesspeople on this planet”. I don’t see how this statement is protectionist, simply a statement of what I believe to be true (and many would agree with me).

    3. My oversight on the ingredients of Leffe Blonde. To each their own I guess. I prefer the Brune personally!

    4. AB is a company that exists in a capitalistic economy and would obviously not be giving any other brewer money if they did not expect a return on that investment. AB is a not a welfare establishment. Neither is GI, not any other craft brewer for that matter. The decision was made by both parties as something that would be mutually beneficial.

    That being said, are the “business” and the “craft and the art” mutually exclusive? I’d argue absolutely not, and partnering with a brewer who has demonstrated an ability to successfully navigate the former while not just upholding, but exemplifying the latter seems decently sound.

    So apologies for the more emotional response! At the end of the day, this may be an exercise in semantics, as most sources are simply speculating. I hope, as I think all real beer-lovers do, that a symbiotic relationship between GI and AB will not only be a great business move, but help foster the “craft and art” as well.

    FYI:
    US craft: Lagunitas Maximus IPA
    Belgian: Gulden Draak

    Out of curiosity, what’s your favorite macro beer?

  7. Karl Author
    Karl

    JD:

    Thanks for the more evenhanded comment, but when you come in guns-a-blazin’ throwing around terms like “narrow minded, protectionist, and uninformed,” you get what you give.

    You are an AB employee, and as such your opinions when it comes to conversations about beer are necessarily tied to that status. We call it “full disclosure” and your statement about the guys that run AB imply that you’re also a pretty large fan of the company and their product.

    Which is fine, but to imply that I’m being “protectionist” and then fire off a missive about how great AB is struck me as a little disingenuous at best. The marketing department didn’t give you a call and ask you to roll back some of your statements, did they?

    AB wants to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that. And brewing can be equal parts craft and business. I choose to support the people who believe craft comes first, business second. It’s not a business model that will make most brewers millionaires, but I bet the guys that run Half Acre and Dark Horse and New Glarus sleep at night just fine.

    It’s the propensity for business and the bottom line to come before quality that I dislike. No one can tell me that someone who makes Select 55 also deeply cares about Bourbon County Rare – unless it’s as a line on a budget. There’s a lot of money to be made selling cheaply made low-cost, high-profit beer to people. To equate that as “exemplifying” part of “a craft” is silly, no matter how many craft brewers AB buys or how many weird Michelob flavors they can produce.

    I hope for nothing but the best between GI and AB. May we all enjoy 312 and Summertime to the end of our days if we see fit, and may it be the same fine product it always was with no interference and no corner cutting and no cost-benefit analysis overdose and ever shall be, brewing without end, amen.

    Thanks for your response. I’m sure if we sat down and had a beer together we’d get along just fine.

    Oh, and I like High Life, corn-flavor and all.

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  10. mintjellie

    I found the news of this sale interesting. Though GI isn’t available where I live (Ontario), I really enjoyed the bottles of Sofie I brought home from a trip south of the border. We had a similar situation up here years back when Unibroue was bought out by Sleeman, Canada’s number three brewer and very much a macro company. And Sleeman were in turn bought out by the Japanese Sapporro conglomerate. Anyways, I hope for the best. I hope that on my next visit to the US, Sofie will be as delicious as I remember, and that much like Unibroue, nothing substantial will change in how the beer is made and A-B will take a hands off approach, much like Sapporo seems to have done with Unibroue.

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