There’s an old business adage: if you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em, and that’s what Anheuser-Busch is doing, buying out Goose Island Brewery for somewhere between $22.5 million (according to MarketWatch) and $38.8 million (according to the Chicago Tribune). When I first saw this I thought it was an elaborate April Fool’s Day joke, but then I realized corporations don’t play those.
Goose Island has been financially associated with AB for a while as part of the Craft Brewers Alliance, but news of the buyout still surprises me a bit. I guess I never thought the day would come where we’d see a mega-macrobrewer buy out an honest to goodness craft brewery. Well, that day is here, and to me it feels like a step in the wrong direction.
Goose Island’s founder and CEO John Hall thinks just the opposite. He says it’s for the best:
“Over the past five years our partnerships with Craft Brewers Alliance and Anheuser-Busch have enabled Goose Island to reach a growing number of beer drinkers. This has fueled our growth to the point that demand for our beers has outgrown the capacity of our brewery. Recently, we’ve even had to limit production of some classic and medal-winning styles. To keep up with growing demand from drinkers we’ve explored a variety of paths too secure new capital to support our growth.
Today’s agreement to consolidate ownership of Goose Island under Anheuser-Busch will provide us with the best resources available to continue along our path of growth and innovation.”
Hall tells the Tribune that the brewery will continue to make interesting and creative brews, but only time will tell what the new ownership will mean for the quality of Goose Island’s beers, from Bourbon County Stout, to Matilda, to 312, to Honker’s.
Hall will stay on as CEO, but his son Greg will step down as brewmaster. Greg will be replaced by Brett Porter, who used to be the brewmaster at Deschutes and has been at Goose Island since last year. The two Chicago brewpubs were not part of the deal and will continue to operate independently from the brewery.
Last week’s legal dust up between Bell’s and Northern Brewer showed us that many craft beer fans have little tolerance for corporate shenanigans. We’ll see if Bud can navigate these tricky waters and keep the beer geeks on board, but it probably doesn’t matter. The casual beer drinker won’t know (or care) where Goose Island comes from, and there are many more of them than there are of us (see Blue Moon).
I bet they’ll love Bud County Stout.
For better or worse, expect deals like these to continue as we watch the future of craft beer unfold.