Posted in Editorial, Goose Island Brewing

The Goose Island Opinion You’ll Hate

This is my first Op-Ed on this site. (And probably my last.)  A lot of people are probably going to hate me for saying this.

By now I’m sure you know the “news that rocked the beer world”  aka Goose Island gets sold to AB Inbev.  It’s big news for sure and it’s definitely something to talk about.

I’ve sat here most of the day reading Twitter, articles, and blog posts about the GI situation, and for the most part everyone is shocked.

Yes, dropping the name Inbev or AB or anything macro in the craft beer world is like ripping a wet fart during a pastor’s sermon in church.  Shocking. Appalling, perhaps even disgusting.  All are reactions the beer community is emoting as the story unfolds.

I’m going to skip straight to this.  Idealism.  Especially craft beer idealism.   The beer scene in the United States is booming of course.  And with it is a growing sense of elitism.  More and more now I’m hearing “I am a craft beer drinker” or “I drink craft beer” said in a “I drive a hybrid, because I want to be part of the solution, not the problem” smug sort of way.   I get it, you drink craft beer, but don’t start acting like the wine people do.   That’s why we are beer people.

And listen, I actually AM a craft beer drinker… a constant craft beer drinker.  Read: much more than I should.   I love most everything about the beer scene in the US, except for this smug idealistic attitude that is growing rampant.   I tell people I love beer.  I drink beer.  No need for “craft” or “micro.”  You’ve seen me drink. You get it.

Macro money got to Goose Island.  People are shocked.  Dismayed. Upset.  But for you, what has changed?   The financial side?   If that’s actually it — what are you upset about? Do the banking transactions actually affect what you taste in your beer?  Are you so idealistic that you can’t lay lips to a Bourbon County Vanilla Stout because AB makes a light lager? Oooooookay.

Beer is a business as much as it is an artform.  Plain and simple.  I’ll happily say – true, IF there was money to be had from a non InBev source –  perhaps it might have been a better option.  But really, InBev makes an investment in a craft brewer, (especially when macro sales are declining) and you get up at arms like someone just sold children into sweatshop slavery.  I’ve even seen people say they will never drink another Goose Island beer.

Fine. Keep your idealism.  Hold your head high, for you are the champion of what is right for what’s in your pint glass.   If the beer Goose Island will be producing after the check is written remains the same, I’ll keep drinking it.  Take your idealistic stand.  More for me.

18 thoughts on “The Goose Island Opinion You’ll Hate

  1. The Problem is not AB owning a micro. It’s what they’ll do with the micro. If you think that AB cares about the beer it’s producing your delusional. AB cares about money. The honkers ale and 312 products will probably not be affected of very slightly affected by the acquisition. What has craft beer lovers concerned though is Goose Island’s higher end products, namely its Belgian Series and it’s Bourbon County Stout. Will AB share the same commitment,care and resources that GI puts into those Brews, that are much costlier and time consuming to produce, and have a much smaller profit margin than the Honkers or 312. That is the question that craft beer lovers are concerned about. AB doesn’t care about these consumers.

  2. Perhaps this drama can be the cap-gun’s shot across the bow of destroying this culture of elitism and (I think unhealthy) competition in the beer world.

    Well said, sir. I definitely rang the warning bells, but thank you for setting me straight.

  3. I think the issue with ABInbev isn’t the line of massed produced beers they sell, it is the corporate operations and constant strong arming of small breweries.

    Goose Island was already partially owned by AB for the sole reason that with out selling a portion of the company, the AB controlled distributors in Illinois would not distribute their product.

    ABInbev is about making money, not about creating great beer. It seems minor at this point but what happens when the bottom line becomes an issue. Will they keep production in Chicago? What about the employees? It has all been seen before.

  4. Well put. I’d also add that many investors in craft breweries make the leap with the hope that one day they will be bought by a major brewery. Whether it’s realistic goal is not the point. The point is that the dream helps funnel money into your local brewery.

  5. Well, it all reminds me of one of my favorite breweries, Celis, which sold out to Miller about 10 years ago. Their circumstances were different–they had trouble keeping up with demand, turned to Miller for investment who then reduced the number of markets they sold in and lost sales–but many in the beer community lamented the loss and decried the demise of the craft brewery market.

    Things go on.

    I love Goose Island and we’ll see what happens. Chances are that AB will screw it up, but it’s not our decision; it’s a business decision.

  6. Agreed, well put. I too am weary of the growing smugness as you mention. People need to dislike things for what they are. If you don’t like the taste of a macro beer, that’s perfectly fine…but don’t automatically dismiss everything they do as a result. Yes, fearing that Goose Island’s quality could decrease as a result of this is a somewhat valid concern. But that’s in the future and way to early to know at this point. So let’s see how it plays out first. If it does, don’t drink it. If it stays the same high quality, great…better availability of GI.

    There’s a big difference between a beer geek vs. a beer snob. I like to consider myself a geek. Meaning, I almost always drink craft beer exclusively. It suits my tastebuds more than macro.

    But if I’m at a ballgame and the beer guy walks by my aisle, I’ll have a Bud or Miller. In fact, I had a Bud while playing poker last weekend and it wasn’t all that bad.

    I like beer, plain and simple. I’ll drink a Bud if that’s the only available choice. But luckily, in today’s America, we’re rarely faced with such limited choices. A good craft can be had in almost every possible scenario so I choose to go with the craft.

    Nothing more…

  7. What kind of sucks about this…is that the craft beer movement (or scene or whatever you want to call it) has become what it is, precisely b/c people have bucked the system and tried to do something so completely different than the macro world. The art of brewing, the business model, the careful distribution, etc. is all in complete opposition of the “big boys”. The beer might not taste any differently now (or maybe even, ever) but drinking beer, or really making any financial decision, to some, goes beyond the product itself. For me, I do not want to support businesses, breweries included, that “sell out” (b/c let’s be honest, this is selling out in the most literal sense) for the almighty dollar. Sam Caligione/DFH being the best and obviously most well-known example of a company that has continued to get many offers of being bought out, but has always remained true to themselves. I respect the hell out of that. This won’t cause me to stop consuming Goose Island, but it will cause me to stop supporting them financially. All that to say, if anyone wants to give away some GI, I’ll be happy to take it off your hands!

    More to the overall point of your post – I definitely agree w/you about the smugness and elitism that has become the norm. Would love to see more posts that address that issue. I don’t really think, for me, this is an example of that, though.

    Keep up the good work…

  8. For the purpose of this discussion, it is important to note that “Making money” and “Making high quality craft beer” are not mutually exclusive. There are numerous examples across the country of high quality craft brewers who are constantly expanding production and distribution to meet demand and, believe it or not, make more money. An influx of ABI cash will defiantly make the beer more available (they have already committed to invest 1.3 million into production right of the bat). It will likely raise the perception and awareness of craft beer nationwide as they have the means to advertise in multiple media channels. It may or may not affect the quality in the long run.

    Everyone can spend their money where they like, one of the good things about being in America. I spend my money on good beer, regardless of cashflow. Don’t write off a company completely because the original owners took a check for $38.8 million dollars. After putting 23 years into the company, I’d think about taking a vacation too.

  9. Count me as one of the few that does not see this sale of Goose Island as the end of an era, or the end of the world. A lot of the comments I’ve seen regarding this are snobbish people just hating a large corporation. I hate them too, but I need a reason to hate. Remember…..Goose Island sold to InBev AB. It was their decision to do this and not some hostile evil empire take over. That’s not a reason to hate InBev/AB…..If you are going to hate, then aim at Goose Island. The way I see it, we may be able to finally get some Goose Island beer in Georgia.

  10. After 17 years in this industry, I have worked in every size brewery from A/B to tiny brewpubs. If the beer takes off, there is no shame in meeting demand through interpartnership. You gotta know the devil if you’re gonna dance with him. I remember a similar deal struck 15 years ago with ABC and A/B that nearly drove the company out of business. I believe the climate has somewhat changed, but I would have my lawyer and accountant in the room when the deal was struck. Shit, I don’t have anyone to leave a business to. I’d love to bail when I can no longer heft a sack of malt and spend the rest of my life traveling the world and drinking the finest beers it has to offer! I am a libertarian capitalist for the record.

  11. When it comes to me and my beer, the next best thing to my free will to choose what I like to drink is where I want to drink it. I like Chicago, it is a cool city, but there is no doubt that this decision by Goose Island is going to help get this awesome beer to my favorite drinking spots in Georgia a heck of lot faster than we could have hoped! Thanks AB, I trust that you will do a good job.

  12. If the brewery was so infatuated with making great beer and had no business sense about them, I can see them reaching out for a hand. And if they were near bankrupt, a normal bank would not help. In that case, AB is a valid resort for cash to keep the brewery in business. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. The case seems to be that AB is stepping in to help expansion. A brewery wouldn’t be expanding if they didn’t do good business in the first place. That signals to me that greed was the driving motivator in this transaction. Each beer drinker can make their own decision on whether that is okay or not. But if breweries don’t draw a line in the sand, every brewery that has a multi-million dollar check waved in front of them will sell out, eventually. AB is learning that to buy up the competition is cheaper than out-marketing them. I bet it cost more to produce “American Ale” in 2008 than to buy GI now. Eventually, that will be the end of the “craft” of making beer for the art and satisfaction of taste. I’m pretty sure that already happened in Germany and in the UK. Craft beer was the reversal of that situation in the US, but now it seems to be swinging back.

    I wonder what will happen when the new head brewer wants to make a beer that’ll cost $8 a bomber, but can only command $6 in the market. Will it get made under AB’s control?

    • No company would produce any product that would only sell at a 25% loss, at any scale at least.

      To your point about buying a successful operating brewery is cheaper than creating a new beer like American Ale, check out this Article by Andy Crouch. He is a well respected beer author and is very close to the situation as he lives in Chicago. For what it is worth, he feels it could signals good things for the craft beer industry as a whole.

  13. If you don’t exercise some kind of idealism, you’re a blind sheep relying on someone else’s. I know people in the South are better at it than other places in general, but still–I’m from the South by the way. I might as well get my beer from Wal-mart or the grocery store instead at beer/wine store like Hop City in Atlanta for instance. Yeah, Hop City has more choices–and hopefully care about beer more–but they aren’t as convient or might not have the cheapest price for a more national brand.

    It is in most people’s interest to support local businesses than huge multinational corporations–that is, unless you work for one. For me, it’s about knowing who’s in control and where the money goes. With over 1,700 breweries in the U.S. alone now, I have plenty of other great options. Yeah, it pisses me off, but we have plenty of other great breweries to choice from. Now those of us that have lived in Chicago and have some emotional attachment to the Goose, we might take this a little more personally. I’m over that now–that burn lasted about 10 minutes. Having been in Chicago drinking the beers from their production facility before and after the Craft Brewers Alliance deal, there is a difference in quality. The beers at the original Clybourn brewpub are still great.

    I don’t make much money as it stands now. I don’t feel anywhere near being elite. But, I choice beer brewed by smaller, independent breweries because it supports people that care more about their product because they have their hands directly on a product and will make eye contact with the people that buy their product more. They do it because it’s something they love and not because it makes them rich. I could easily save or spend my tightly budgeted money elsewhere, but I choice to buy local and independent as much as I can–and that goes for any other product. Even with Anheuser-Busch, not as much money even stays in our country as it use to.

    I actually think when I buy a product. Does that make me an idealist? If that’s what you want to call me. Convenience and price rarely plays in, and when price is way too big of a difference, well, I save or do without (something that was exercised more often than it is now). I’ll gladly pay a buck more for something made in the country, state, or if I’m so lucky enough, town I reside in. For most items, that usually the difference–a buck or two. Yeah, that means I can’t buy as much stuff, but having lived in 12 different states and countries in the last 10 years, you get tired of lugging around the extra crap and learn how much you really don’t need or even use anymore. People like to complain about the employment problems in the U.S. right now, but it’s a lot of our own fault. If we hadn’t opted for the Made in China products years ago when there still was a Made in the U.S.A. option (which I dare you to try to go a week with buying only U.S. made products), we would have more to fall back on when a housing buddle bursts. And yes, some people that buy hybrid vehicles are just doing it because they think they are doing something good for the environment and are getting a very fuel efficient vehicle and by doing so means they are doing their part. What most people don’t realize for some reason, is that battery technology isn’t where it needs to be and that mining the materials needed to make the batteries is actually doing more harm on an environmental scale than their Civics and Geo Metros before that. If it advances battery technology to where it needs to be, then it probably will be worth it. Also, the vehicle is only “fuel efficient” because the gasoline engine isn’t running all the time, which in my book isn’t fuel efficient, and the engine certainly is not. There are plenty of choices in Europe for instance that get an actual 60 mpg (turbo diesels). I have a ’02 Jetta TDI that averages in the low 40s on a tank on a bad fill-up (this is an example of it wasn’t made locally so I had to go elsewhere). Since I rarely drive the 700+ miles a tank will get me, I would be seeing tank averages of 50+ mpg more often. The technology has been around for a long time, yet we sheepishly go another direction. If more would have made the choice, we would have a U.S. made turbo diesel that gets 50+ mpg or a turbo diesel hybrid that get 100+mpg.

    That digression was to try to illustrate that just because some play follow-the-leader, it doesn’t make the rest of us elitist. The elitists are those buying up the smaller companies to destroy the competition or to mask their tentacles (or reach if that’s a bit too much for you). Am I an idealist–absolutely. Ideals are only unrealistic if we don’t pursue them or a stand.

  14. Holy crap, Adam’s “comment” was longer than the original article! tl/dnr

    Nice article and great points. The face of craft beer is changing, and growing, anyone who fought to get a few bottles of KBS this year knows what happens when you expand territory but not production.

    Anyhow… I like beer. I’ve never tried Goose Island but if anyone has some they want to trade hit me up so I can try it.

  15. If anybody has seen Beer Wars, you’ll know this is about shelf space. A/B will use their larger brands as leverage for retailers to carry Goose Island and make space for it and it will most likely be at the expense of some other craft brewer who doesn’t have the clout or muscle to do to retailers what A/B can. Now for the hobbyists who buy at craft beer stores or specialty bottle shops, they shouldn’t have to worry. The expense will come at your grocery, convenience and mega liquor stores.

Comments are closed.