In an earlier article, I covered Goose Island's effort to "migrate west" and offer more of their beers in San Francisco. I also had the chance to speak to Goose Island owner John Hall, and get his thoughts on San Francisco beers, Goose Island's expansion / future, and of course his buyout with Anheuser-Busch InBev.
I sat down at the crowded North Beach bar and, before long, found myself in a conversation with Goose Island founder John Hall. It was a Goose Island tap takeover, and their flagship beers were flowing while shots of the ultra-rare BCBS Vanilla were passed around. The Goose Island reps wore shirts with the slogan "Migrating West," as the Chicago brewery was making an effort to make their beers available in the west, outside of the windy city. I asked John about this migration, and what it would mean for San Francisco beer drinkers:
"I've always wanted to have more beer available to people who want good beer," John said, "I've been coming out to California for a long time and have been influenced by the area, so I've been wanting to bring my beer out here for years."
I asked if San Francisco would see more taps for their 312 wheat ale and other flagship beers, or if we'd see some of their limited beers out here too.
"Limited beers are limited, even in Chicago, but the idea is to bring more vintage ales and Bourbon County Stouts everywhere. We may never be able to keep up with demand, but we have increased production of BCBS in the past couple years," John said, "We'll be on tap, with more beers available. We've talked about a brewpub, but that would be a year or so away at least. It's all talk at the moment."
Few breweries have the respect, awareness, and polarizing nature of Goose Island. The Chicago brewery has been known for its excellent lineup of beers, especially their BCBS lineup. But in March of 2011, it was announced that Goose Island, one of the top craft breweries in the country, was selling its shares to AB InBev, the giant company making the likes of Budweiser, Stella Artois, and Corona. At the time, the change of ownership was highly publicized, and criticized. What was going to happen to the beloved Chicago craft brewery? Many thought it would be corporatized, and the beers they loved would slowly fade away.
Two and a half years after the AB InBev takeover, and we are beginning to get a clearer picture of what has happened to Goose Island - the fingerprints of Anheuser-Busch are everywhere. But perhaps not in the way many expected.
"We had other alternatives (than AB InBev), but this was the best one for us," John said, "I realized big companies have a lot of benefits, but I also realized they know not to interfere when they have something good."
Hall went on to describe how the InBev brewers were able to replicate the Goose Island flagship beers perfectly, leading to rapid growth for the company, making their beers available to locales previously unreachable.
"AB has allowed us to make Honker's Ale and replicate it over and over again. It's like drinking it in the brewery. They have allowed us to expand. They are an assured source of quality for our beers. AB was the best choice for my employees, and it was the best choice for beer drinkers as more people can drink the beer," said John.
While true that the production of the Goose Island flagship beers was increasing, I couldn't help but wonder if the increased production impacted the brewing of the well loved BCBS or new, innovative beers. Hall assuaged those fears when he hinted at the big year ahead for Goose Island:
"We continue to innovate with new beers. A lot of new beers. We are able to give our brewers a pretty free hand. The average beer drinker today gets pretty bored, so we will have a lot of new beers. We have the capacity to do so now. I'm very excited...if anything, we have ramped up innovation."
While the Goose Island buyout occurred over two and a half years ago, we are fresh off the announcement of Boulevard Brewing selling its shares to Duvel. It's an interested trend seeing some of the bigger craft breweries allowing themselves to be taken into a bigger fold. Many people in the brewing community don't mind if a brewery "sells out" as long as the beer and inventiveness doesn't disappear. Others will always look down on a craft brewery buyout for the principle of it.
For me, though, and many Goose Island fans, it's simply reassuring to know that Goose Island is still coming up with new beers, and I'll (hopefully) be able to get my hand on the next edition of Bourbon County Brand Stout when it comes out (vanilla again, anyone?). Keep on experimenting, Goose Island, and don't forget to let your limited beers migrate out west too.
John's SF beer of the moment: Sierra Nevada's Pale