A few months back, Kid Carboy told our readers about the sale of Chicago’s own Goose Island brewery to Anheuser-Busch InBev, perennial punching-bag of Aleheads everywhere.*
*Picture a titanium-sheathed punching bag roughly 87 miles tall being assaulted by a handful of asthmatic ants. That’s a fairly accurate representation of how much damage our slings and arrows do to AB InBev.
I followed up Kid’s piece with a typically Barleyian essay rife with hyperbole and righteous anger. While my post contained my usual pointless drivel, the crux of my argument was that AB InBev was snapping up Goose Island to try to compete in the fast-growing craft segment of the beer industry and would soon be dramatically altering Goose’s business model.*
*Admittedly, even a 5-year-old with no understanding of the beer industry could have come to those same conclusions.
Well…it took four months, but Goose Island has finally been Buschwhacked. They recently announced that their flagship brews, Honkers Ale and India Pale Ale, will be completely outsourced to Red Hook Brewing in Portsmouth, NH, Seattle, WA, and Woodinville, WA. This probably doesn’t strike anyone who has been following the situation as particularly outrageous news. Red Hook (like Goose Island up until a few months ago) is partially-owned by Anheuser-Busch and does most of the contract brewing for other InBev-controlled companies like Kona. More importantly, they were already brewing a portion of Honkers and India Pale Ale as far back as 6 months ago. Transferring the rest of the brewing responsibility for those two beers is unfortunate, but hardly surprising. What IS shocking, however, is that Goose’s other big seller, the 312 Urban Wheat Ale (so named for Chicago’s telephone area code) will now be partially brewed at an AB plant in Baldwinsville, NY.
*Baldwinsville actually uses the very similar 315 area code, but as any drunk dialer will tell you, “similar” doesn’t really cut it when making phone calls.
OK, maybe it isn’t really shocking. You see, Goose’s “excuse” when they sold the brewery was that they couldn’t meet consumer demand and thus practically HAD to sell out to the most reviled name in the brewing industry. They would leverage Anheuser-Busch’s unparalleled capacity and logistics to get their products into the hands of more and more people. It’s a win-win, right? Right?!?!
The problem is that AB InBev doesn’t seem to realize how important the “local” factor is to craft beer drinkers. Look, I’m a huge beer snob and like sampling beers from all over this great land of ours. But I take particular pride in my local products (currently the ever-growing Alabama craft beer scene). And I’m not alone. The astounding growth of the craft beer movement stems from a desire to “drink locally”. Beer drinkers are unabashed homers…touting their local ale factories and drinking anything and everything produced in their stomping grounds. How many stories have you read recently about breweries like Dogfish Head, Allagash, and Flying Dog having to pull distribution from far-flung states because they can barely keep up demand at home?*
*OK, you probably haven’t read any of those stories because they’re super-boring, but trust me, they’re ubiquitous these days.
AB InBev seems to think that because Goose Island
is was a respected name in craft beer circles that they can simply start churning out thousands of barrels of their flagship brews and adding them to the taps and shelves of bars and package stores across the country right next to Budweiser and Natty Light. And maybe they’re right. Maybe the quality of Goose’s products won’t suffer and sales will skyrocket thanks to the support of the inimitable AB distribution and marketing machine. Maybe you’ll see an ad during this year’s Superbowl featuring Honker, an AFLAC-esque gander honking away while women walk around in bikinis and some guy gets hit in the balls with something.*
*I should TOTALLY be in advertising!
But I don’t see it that way. The response to Goose Island’s sale at the end of March was OVERWHELMINGLY negative. Goose Island’s owners were called sell-outs and much worse. Former Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall was so distraught by the situation that he took his buy-out, urinated on a Chicago-area bar, disappeared for a few months, and has now quit brewing entirely to focus on cider. Aleheads everywhere see the sale for what it really was…an attempt by the largest, most ruthless brewery on Earth to try to sink its claws into the craft beer market. And we’re not buying.
Goose Island is no longer a “local” brewery. Sure, owner John Hall is saying all the right things. He has explained that the outsourcing of certain labels will allow the brewery to complete an expansion at their Fulton Street headquarters and will give them an opportunity to focus on more innovative programs like barrel-aging, Belgian brews and sours. And hey, if that’s really the case, more power to him. In fact, I would highly encourage Aleheads to drink Goose Island’s beers…but ONLY if you are living in or visiting the Chicagoland area. Don’t let Anheuser-Busch make a mockery of craft beer by buying up a popular label and turning it into “Bud Premium”. If you’re in Chicago, grab one of the Fulton Street-brewed Goose Island beers. Anywhere else in the country, skip the Goose Island and buy the local beers.*
*And it should go without saying that you should avoid the Honkers Ale, India Pale Ale, and 312 Urban Wheat like the plague.
The 312 Urban Wheat Ale being brewed in upstate New York may SEEM like a minor story, but it really isn’t. It’s indicative of Anheuser-Busch’s approach. Take a popular Chicago beer named after the local area code and exploit it by farming out its production to a facility nowhere near Chicago. AB InBev, a company headquartered in Belgium and run by Brazilians doesn’t care about local, American products. They care about their bottom line and nothing else.*
*Check out this article for an interesting side note to the area code debate. It seems that AB InBev is attempting to trademark a variety of area codes for use in “local”-themed brews. Apparently they saw the success of the 312 and decided that people everywhere would drink beers named after their telephone numbers regardless of where they were brewed. No one misses the point quite like Anheuser-Busch.
We knew this was going to happen, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less sad. Fare thee well, Goose Island. I’ll see you in Chicago, but everywhere else, your name is Bud.