What’s a Brewery Owner to Do?

I may catch some slack for this but I must ask the question; if you were in John Hall’s position, what would you have done? For those who aren’t familiar, John Hall is the founder and president of Goose Island Beer Co., the Chicago-based brewing powerhouse that was just sold to Anheuser-Busch for $38.8 million.

Goose Island Brewing Co. TapsImage credit: Gut Instinct Blog

Everyone is very up in arms about the sale and while I completely understand the whole “big evil corporate brewery with crappy products trying to control everything and form a monopoly” argument, I can’t say I blame Goose Island and I don’t necessarily think they sold out.

In a statement issued shortly after the acquisition was announced Hall explained, “Demand for our beers has grown beyond our capacity to serve our wholesale partners, retailers, and beer lovers. This agreement helps us achieve our goals with an ideal partner who helped fuel our growth, appreciates our products and supports their success.” He added that the “new structure will preserve the qualities that make Goose Island’s beers unique, strictly maintain our recipes and brewing processes.”

I know that most craft beer enthusiasts look at Anheuser-Busch as the enemy but maybe in this case, their involvement is a good thing? Perhaps it’s an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” scenario?

Dave Peacock (president of A-B) put it this way, “These critically acclaimed beers are the hometown pride of Chicagoans. We are very committed to expanding in the high-end beer segment, and this deal expands our portfolio of brands with high-quality, regional beers. As we share ideas and bring our different strengths and experiences together, we can accelerate the growth of these brands.”

When you think about it, Goose Island is growing so fast that they’re currently unable to meet the surging demand and while Anheuser-Busch has a ton of money, they’re losing market share. With the resources and the capital, they just need a product that’s in demand.

Dogfish Head had to pull out of Indiana, Wisconsin, Rhode Island and Tennessee last month because their capacity is seriously strained. “The glass-half-full view is that we (and a handful of other U.S. craft breweries making similar moves) have to do this because the number of U.S. drinkers buying and enjoying craft beer are growing so quickly!” founder and president Sam Calagione wrote on the company’s blog.

Not only is Goose Island accommodating their consumers, they’re making some money. They’ve been all about the passion and their beer since they launched in 1988, they have a great line of products and they’ve done a great job helping the craft brewing industry grow. Isn’t that success? Maybe I’m being a bit too optimistic but I’d like to think that the folks at Anheuser-Busch are smart enough to know that if they change the beer, they’ll lose the customers. Look at Sam Adams, for example. Are they even craft beer anymore? They’ve experienced the same path; their expansion money just came from a different source.

I hope that the Goose Island beers maintain their quality and as much as I don’t want to “support” Anheuser-Busch as an oppressor, I don’t mind supporting them as a partner. Good beer is good beer, no matter who fronts the money to make it.

Feel free to disagree, I welcome a good debate.


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