Things just got real.
Beer geeks have had our collective noses pressed up against the glass at Goose Island, wondering how the takeover of the brewery by Anheuser-Busch might effect the quality of the beer.
Up until now, there was a safeguard in place – Goose Island founder John Hall was hanging around keeping an eye on his baby. But that’s about to end.
I read the following bit of news in the Chicago Tribune (the online edition, not the physical paper – I avoid those because you can’t link to them. I tried once and wound up with newsprint stuck to my monitor for a month):
On Jan. 1, 30-year Anheuser-Busch veteran Andy Goeler will take over as Goose Island CEO and president, AB said in a memo to employees. Goeler has most recently served as AB’s vice president of import, craft and specialty brands.
Goeler has worked on Goose Island products for the last year, the company said, and aims for “further expansion of the brand nationally” and “growing the brands the right way.”
So let’s get this straight…Goose Island, which makes such delights as Bourbon County (add optional delicious ingredient here) Stout is being left in the care of the fella who recently oversaw AB’s imports, like Beck’s beer.
The same Beck’s beer that was recently the subject of a deeply unflattering profile in Businessweek that told the story of a loyal Beck’s drinker who noticed that his favorite beer suddenly tasted like crap. After doing a little digging, he discovered that Beck’s was no longer an import from Germany, but rather was now brewed in the USA (a cost saving measure on AB-InBev’s part) and the quality of the product had suffered as a result.
This is exactly the kind of bean-counting-before-quality attitude that we’ve all feared might happen at Goose Island, and it’s now a step closer to becoming a reality with “30-year Anheuser-Busch veteran Andy Goeler” at the helm.
Here’s Goeler’s history with the company, courtesy of Businessweek:
Mr. Goeler has been held various positions in Marketing Division of A-B, including heading up the Bud Light and Budweiser brands since 1995. Prior to 1995, Mr. Goeler held various field sales positions, including Geographical Marketing and Executive Assistant to Vice President of Sales, and served in the Wholesale Operations Division. He has been a Director of Widmer since August 2005 and been employed by A-B since 1980. He served as a Director of Craft Brewers Alliance, Inc. from July 1, 2008 to June 29, 2011.
I’m not saying it’s a done deal that Mr. Goeler is going to water down Matilda to save 2 cents a bottle – he might be on strict orders to hold the line on quality and work to make Goose Island even craftier than before. But I doubt it. Still, he’s been banging around InBev’s craft beer portfolio for about seven years, so at least he knows the landscape.
At any rate, John Hall’s departure, along with that of Chief Operating Officer and 12-year Goose Island vet Tony Bowker, marks the moment that AB-InBev has severed its ties with Goose Island’s past and begins charting its own course into the future.
We will see where things go from here. If the quality remains, AND they manage to produce enough BCS to distribute the stuff to New Jersey, then maybe that’s okay. But if the shelf space shenanigans begin, and the beer doesn’t taste quite as good as it used to, we’ll know that the heavy hands of the big boys have indeed strangled the life out of this once great Goose.
Only time will tell, and that clock truly starts ticking on January 1st, 2013.