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Monday, August 01, 2011

Evolution of the Macro-Micro, Goose Island Example

This is a fascinating development:
Three months after being acquired by Anheuser-Busch, Goose Island Beer Co. said today that its massively popular 312 Urban Wheat Ale will soon be brewed in an AB facility in upstate New York.
Oh, the humanity! But wait:
Goose founder and Chief Executive Officer John Hall said the move will be a boon for fans of the brewery's higher end beers, like Matilda and Bourbon County Stout. Accounting for almost half the brewery's sales, 312 has required significant resources at Goose's Fulton Street plant. With the beer's production heading east -- partially at first and likely entirely at some point -- that space can be used for other projects, Hall said.
So A-B's purchase of Goose Island may actually increase their experimental brands. And all that A-B money will ultimately mean lots and lots of everything: "Hall also said he hopes to return all Goose Island brewing to Chicago within the next three or four years by building a massive new Goose Island plant."

Just to throw this out there: does ownership by the Lords of Darkness mean, ipso facto, that Goose Island must be dead to beer geeks? This is a question of philosophy, not beer.

19 comments:

  1. I don't think you can automatically believe spin like this until it is proven. A-B owns a pretty decent stake in Widmer and it isn't dead to beer geeks. We'll see how it works out with Goose Island.

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  2. The question is whether your preference is for "experimental" beer or the business behind it. The answer for me is a no brainer: I support craft brew not because it's a cutting edge product, but because I would rather support local, independent businesses.

    It doesn't hurt that most of the "experimental" beers I have had border on undrinkable. And I could personally not care less about GI's flamboyant shows of conspicuous consumption long before they were purchased by a godawful multi-national.

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  3. Right now in Phoenix, the demand for 312 Urban Wheat Ale is exactly 0. Yet if I read the strategy here, 602 Urban Wheat Ale will soon be knocking of local product shelves via THE MACHINE.

    The price to be paid for Sofie and Bourbon County? Too high. This is a shit sandwich with more bread and more shit.

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  4. @Pete Dunlop
    If a cursory Google search serves, AB-InBev own 32.25% of Craft Brewers Alliance [and hence 32.25% of Kona, Redhook, and Widmer Brewing Co.]. I believe AB-InBev own all of GIBC.

    @GIBC in Columbus, Ohio
    I am in Columbus, Ohio, for a month and have been surveying craft beer availability. I find two or three style of GIBC beers in most grocery stores. I regard this as a good thing; albeit, I have not purchased any. I have not yet quinced my thirst for lagers.

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  5. Is Goose Island dead to me? No, they still make some very good beers that I enjoy quite a bit and can get for very affordable prices. That's nice. I also suspect that, especially with their purchase by AB-Inbev, they'll be available in a great many places (hopefully not just 312 - I don't do wheat beers) and it's always nice to have a safe option in even the least craft-friendly places. I also suspect that they may become something of a gateway beer as they become more widely available, and I see that as a good thing.

    All of this being said, I like supporting local businesses, I like thinking of beer as a local product, and I don't like giving my money to multinationals when avoidable, so I probably will be buying a lot less of their product now than I did previously.

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  6. Local is a funny term. I agree that I care less about breweries that produce industrial beer at identical plants across the country. But the fact that Goose Island is now owned by A-B hasn't changed anything at the brewery level. "Local" people still work at the same brewery and make the same beer. For the barrel-aged line, the localness is especially rooted--you can't easily replicate barrel aged beer (especially soured with wild yeasts) at different plants. Same people, same brewery, same beer. But it's not "local." Odd.

    It may even be the case that those workers get raises. Big companies tend to pay better than little ones. Which would complicate a progressive critique of Goose Island, were it to be born out. How would you feel then?

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  7. A perfectly fair point, all employees of multinationals being locals of somewhere. That being said, the profits of the company no longer go to a local business owner which may make them less likely to be reinvested in the community. Beyond that, I suppose it's a gut feeling that may well not hold up to rigorous scrutiny. It's probably something like the indy music phenomenon. It's way more fun supporting a company that is small, and on a human scale until it grows and all of a sudden it's not so much yours anymore as it is everybody's. It's certainly food for thought.

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  8. Also, beyond their arguably predatory marketing/business practices, I honestly don't know what kind of reputation AB has as an employer or as a corporate citizen, something that's well worth considering.

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  9. Anheuser Busch's business philosophy has been famously and successfully ruthless. From completely anecdotal stories I've heard, so is their employment philosophy. That's usually the trade off working for a huge company though: get an amazing 401k/get fired at the drop of a hat.

    And as to the Beer nut's comment, I would add that only stupid beer drinkers would also assume that AB has no history or interest in gutting goose Island and wearing it's carcass around like a skin-suit.

    for me personally, what I like about Goose Island is their "regular" (I know, what a dreadful word) beers like the IPA and Honker's Ale so the focus on 'experimental' doesn't do much for me. I still remain hopeful that they leave Goose Island alone for the most part.

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  10. That's got nothing to do with how the beer tastes, though, does it, Flagon?

    If they make the beer taste bad, well that's a whole different issue and unrelated to ownership.

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  11. The reality is that AB is all about money, not beer quality. They bought the Goose Island brand because they want to expand their craft beer portfolio. I doubt they will mess with the Goose Island beer. They need it. But they do not need the Chicago brewery because they can brew the Goose Island beers wherever they want now. I don't know how this will turn out. However, I suspect the people in Chicago would be better off had Goose Island stayed fully owned by the Craft Brewers Alliance. We'll see.

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  12. @The Beer Nut

    You are absolutely correct that from what I can tell, AB has not messed with the formula: the beers still taste exactly the same, so boycotting them or whatever is premature and silly.

    I also think that it would be silly to expect that AB won't start cutting corners and degrading the beer, though.

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  13. This is not AB's first time brewing a "micro" in one of it's larger breweries. A few years back Widmer's Hefeweizen was brewed at the Fairfield brewery. The volume demand did not support the effort and production was stopped. Kirin Ichiban is contract brewed at the Los Angeles brewery (look at the fine print on the label for proof). In each of these cases, the taste and quality of the beers is held to a strict standard. If there is anything that AB is good at, it is maintaining the consistency of the beer across multiple breweries.

    On the local issue, thankfully big beer hasn't figured out how to outsource breweries to China and Mexico. Once that happens, we are doomed.

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  14. It is naive to think AB purchased GI for the beer. The beer industry has been dominated by one thing in the past 100 years. Brands. GI the brand was bought. SLowly but surely we'll be bombarded with 312 commercials, as they start using the standard assortment of 6-row barley, rice, and corn in all of the beers.

    The other factor is fear. The big guys are scared of the trend towards "craft" beer ( I hate that term but I guess I have to live with it). To them buying up these brands is just putting the enemy out of business, not growing the market share of said brewery.

    Don't point to Widmer as some guiding light of multi-national craft alliance. I definitely avoid their beers. Its like "craft" beer for dummies.

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  15. Don't point to Widmer as some guiding light of multi-national craft alliance. I definitely avoid their beers. Its like "craft" beer for dummies.

    That's a silly comment. If you mean Hefeweizen, a beer now 25 years old and conceived at the dawn of American craft brewing, then yes, maybe it's not as radical as more recent beers. But Widmer has an imperial IPA made with a new hop, a summer pale made with a new hop, and a pale ale made with hops so pointed some people (like me) find them too intense. They make a CDA, a barleywine, and have a experimental IPA series going on.

    "Beer for dummies" is an absurd comment.

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  16. Good BS call on the Widmer comment, Jeff. Widmer is making plenty of good, new stuff. Deadlift is quite interesting and I can't think of another IPA that tastes quite like it. Why create new beers using new ingredients to expand beer/brewing boundaries if you are just trying to "put the enemy out of business?" Total BS.

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