By now of course you know that one of the biggest stories in Chicago this week was the buyout of Goose Island by the giant, multinational conglomerate AB-InBev, the parent company of Anheuser-Busch, better known as the purveyors of swill known as Budweiser.
While I don’t have any particular fondness for Bud, I do find the uproar from the craft beer/beer snob community to be utterly ridiculous. There was this letter to the editor of the Chicago Tribune. The posts on Goose Island’s Facebook page are borderline psychopathic. In keeping up with the times, someone even started a phony Goose Island PR Twitter account.
Even ignoring the big picture of all this (in a world with a myriad of problems, this is the one that gets you energized? Really?), what I find most repulsive about this “small guy” backlash is the idea that overnight, Goose Island’s products went from trendy and acceptable to the seed of the Devil. Let’s take stock of a few things.
First, AB-InBev has had a stake in Goose Island for years. Prior to this move, 48% of the company was owned by the Craft Brewers Alliance, of which AB-InBev owned roughly 30%. Now, I’m no math genius, but that equals roughly a 15% share directly in the company. So yes, everytime you put down $7.99 for a sixer of 312 or Honker’s you gave AB-InBev a buck and change. Joke’s on you, sucker.
Second, there is a pervasive fear that AB-InBev will move production away from Chicago to St. Louis or other facilities. Which is crap for a number of reasons, the first and foremost, Goose Island has already been outsourcing production before this move to keep pace with its growing demand. Second, according to a press release from the company, AB-InBev will be investing $1.3 million in Goose Island’s maxed out Fulton Street Brewery on the West Side. Third, when pressed, the only explanation for this fear that they can articulate is that this will be a repeat of the Rolling Rock fiasco, when A-B purchased the small brewery and moved its production from Latrobe, PA to St. Louis, greatly diminishing quality (that’s the word, I never tasted quality in Rolling Rock to begin with). Of course, the dirty secret about that deal is that it occurred in 2006, when Anheuser-Busch was still a stand-alone company. Since that time, A-B was purchased by InBev, a Dutch-owned corporation that, as best as I can find, has not repeated the Rolling Rock mistake.
Perhaps I am too ignorant on the underworld of craft brewing, but what happened to the days of enjoying a product for the sake of enjoying the product? The increased production space and improved logistics will only allow Goose Island to brew more beer and get it to more shelves. In the past few years, Goose Island has had to eliminate some of its beers like Christmas Ale and Nut Brown Ale because it simply could not keep up with the demand. Of course, if the worst case scenario does play out and the quality dips or production moves out of Chicago, THEN you have a case. But all you have right now are guesses and overreaction, as if this is the first time people in business have chosen to take investment capital from larger companies to continue to produce their products.
So, I implore you, Chicago. Don’t quit on Goose Island just yet. Our very own little brewery has come to the national stage. One of the largest beer companies in the world is making a million dollar investment in our community. These are bad things how?