Goose Island Clybourn Sold to Anheuser-Busch

In Beer News by Karl

Goose Island Clybourn, the brewpub where Chicago’s craft beer scene began to take flight, is now owned by Anheuser-Busch.

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Per this story from the Chicago Tribune, the brewpub that basically birthed the city’s craft beer movement is now owned by Anheuser-Busch.

Since the sale to A-B in 2011, the brewpub operated under founder John Hall as an independent entity, separate from the main Goose Island brewing company. Now the Goose Island Clybourn brewpub has been brought back under the wing (as it were) of Goose Island to reunite them all as one.

We’d heard rumor of a sale floating around for a little while now, and we believed such a move to be unlawful based on the language in the current brewing laws. According to what’s on the books in Illinois:

A person who holds a class 2 brewer license may simultaneously hold a brew pub license if the class 2 brewer (i) does not, under any circumstance, sell or offer for sale beer manufactured by the class 2 brewer to retail licensees; (ii) does not hold more than 3 brew pub licenses in this State; (iii) does not manufacture more than a combined 3,720,000 gallons of beer per year, including the beer manufactured at the brew pub; and (iv) is not a member of or affiliated with, directly or indirectly, a manufacturer that produces more than 3,720,000 gallons of beer per year or any other alcoholic liquor.

Obviously, Anheuser-Busch makes more than 3,720,000 gallons of beer. The only way for A-B to legally make this happen then — and sources tell us they want to keep things on the up and up — is to convert the brewpub to a taproom, which has been further confirmed by Josh Noel at the Trib. Doing so would allow Goose Island Clybourn to still offer beer brewed in-house and other AB products the company has a 100 percent stake in, not just Goose Island. However the conversion from brewpub to taproom means there won’t be other alcohol available, like wine or spirits, so no bloody mary with your weekend brunch.

In a way, this shouldn’t be much of a surprise — in fact, it seems like more of an eventuality with Anheuser-Busch’s recent entry to the brewpub world. Their purchase of Elysian Brewing came part-and-parcel with that company’s brewpubs, and another recent acquisition, 10 Barrel Brewing, has caused waves in the San Diego beer community for their efforts to open a brewpub there. Additionally, the subtle differentiation between Goose Island “Prime” and the Goose Island Brewpubs have caused near-endless confusion since the purchase in 2011. With Wrigleyville closed and Clybourn now owned by A-B, that distinction is now eliminated.

Our main question moving forward: Does this “reunion” mark the end of the road for Goose’s big moves…or will we see more Goose Island brewpubs or taprooms popping up elsewhere? And (stay with us on this one), is it insane to imagine one day there being a chain of A-B affiliated “tied houses” of craft taprooms, all pouring Goose Island, Elysian, 10 Barrel, Blue Point and other A-B products?

Our coverage of the original A-B purchase in 2011, and the subsequent fallout over the decision to move some Goose Island production to breweries in New York state and Fort Collins, can be found here:



Interestingly, as part of the Beer Lover’s Chicago book that will be coming out this summer, I spoke with John Hall about just such a possibility. Back in November, selling the brewpub wasn’t on the radar (at least, as far as he was willing to tell me).

Our full conversation will be released with the book, but here’s the relevant portion of our conversation:

Karl:   Another thing I’m curious about is that you retained ownership of the brewpubs, while A-B basically took over Fulton and grew it like crazy from there. How has it been, in terms of a management structure, with you both operating in somewhat of the same world with the same name, but also in two separate worlds at the same time?

John: A couple of things. One is that AB, when they acquired us, had no interest in and no knowledge of brewpubs, and under Illinois law they couldn’t own the brewpubs. Those were two things. They obviously have made acquisitions since then that have included brewpubs and they understand the value of brewpubs in marketing, especially with craft beer and everything like that. From that standpoint, that explains why I own the brewpubs.

It does present some complications but I understand what’s going on over there because there is law that I’m a retailer now, and so we have to be very careful that we don’t violate Illinois state law and get any extra benefits from a brewer. That’s a big issue and they’re very concerned about it, as I am too. It does present some problems but I do know the brand pretty well and we try, I try and promote the brand as much as ever. That’s what it is but it does present some complications.

Karl:   Other breweries that have been acquired by A-B have brewpubs, including Ten Barrel and Elysian.  Do you think it was just a question of legality, or do you think they were more comfortable with the craft beer world after purchasing Goose, to go into the brewpub world?

John: I think they learned from Goose Island that brewpubs are very, very influential in the growth and marketing of craft beer. I think they’ve seen that with both the other’s one’s that they’ve acquired, how important they are.

Karl: Since you guys inked the deal, the rules have changed significantly, to the point where breweries and brewpubs can co-mingle a little bit. Revolution, for example, has a production facility and they started in a brewpub. Do you see a day where you’re ready to let A-B take over Clybourn as well?

John: I think that is a possibility, without a question, but yeah there’s nothing, nothing that I know of.

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Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago, AskMen and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, is now available via Amazon and other booksellers.If you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.

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