AB-InBev’s “acquisition” of Goose Island back in 2011 still seems to stir up fervor amongst craft brewers and craft brew drinkers alike. It’s hard to argue with the points put forward by Paul from Solemn Oath Brewing. What do you think?
Back before Solemn Oath beer ever hit taps, I thought I blew my chances of working there. I met John and Joe at Bangers & Lace for some feel-each-other-out beers and promptly got into it with one of their newly minted sales reps.
Goose was old news, he swore, hemorrhaging all its talent and cutting corners already, just a year after the sale to AB-InBev. Too many exciting new breweries were coming up for Goose to stay fresh and hold onto its tap handles while adapting to corporate top-down management. Their sales force was playing dirty with dollars. Goose Island was no longer Chicago’s craft darling, and never could be again.
Bullshit. I called it then, I believe it now, and here’s why: ten reasons you should be drinking the good stuff.
1. There’s more of the good stuff.
Shifting production of a majority of 312, IPA, Honkers Ale, and the seasonal line-up to AB plants across the country has opened up the transformation of the Fulton Street brewery into a Bourbon County and Belgian machine with innovation as a core part of its operations.
2. Who’s drinking 312 anyway?
If your final assessment of Goose Island comes down to an ironic scoff at 312 being brewed in different area codes around the country, congratulations on being a smug, holier-than-thou knee-jerker with no appreciation for or understanding of the bigger picture.
3. It’s better and more consistent than most stuff out there.
New breweries grow like crazy and take time to dial things in. Sure, you love every bottle that Pipeworks ever put out there and you’ve never tasted a Solemn Oath draft you didn’t like. Well, I’ll tell you that there are plenty of bad and not-great bottles and kegs out there from new brewers, but, regardless, the hype for small new breweries doesn’t seem to ebb. Some of this comes from the “Oh look! Hot new shit!” syndrome that turns consumers into laser-chasing cats. Some of it comes from our own subconscious angst against our bohemian existences–sorry I’m not a doctor, mom. Some of it is on our end in conceptualizing and dialing in new beers, and some of it is stuff we figure out as we grow and gain more control over our processes. By the time a brewery reaches the size where it starts to distribute well beyond its home market, the quality and consistency has to be there. Very few breweries are doing Belgian ales in oak secondary fermentation with fruit as well as Goose Island is.
4. Solid people are working there.
Yes, John Hall, Greg Hall, John J. Hall, Tom Korder, and John Laffler left. That’s a ton of talent. But when I hear someone say that all the good brewers left, I know immediately they have NFC what’s going on inside that building or that it takes more than brewers (people who make wort) to make great beer at scale. See: leadership, cellarmen, maintenance, innovation, ops, packaging, QA/QC, marketing (which for Goose has really become top-notch storytelling), sponsoring WBEZ (fistbump to my fellow nerds out there) and on and on.
5. They continue to innovate.
New Bourbon County brands every year. A new Fulton and Wood beer every month. An evolving lineup of large-format Belgian ales. A soon-to-be-refreshed seasonal lineup. The best part: most of the good stuff is staying in Chicago these days.
6. There wouldn’t be much of a Chicago beer scene without them.
Simply put, they developed the Chicagoland talent pool. Piece, 5 Rabbit, Off Color, Penrose, Revolution, Temperance…they all spawned from Goose DNA. Alongside the Rock Bottom system and the Siebel Institute, Goose is responsible for a huge portion of the talent making great local beer here. If you believe in Chicago beer, you believe in Goose Island.
7. The brewpubs aren’t owned by scary corporate overlords disguised in suits.
In March of 2011, Fulton Street Brewery LLC (Goose’s legal name) did sell its 58% stake to Anheuser-Busch, but not the brewpubs. John Hall still owns them and brewpub brewmaster Nick Barron continues the incredible legacy set forth by Wil Turner and Jared Rouben.
8. The pie is growing.
The craft sector is growing like mad. The Brewers Association reminds us of this every year. So when you think about how it sure seems like there are a lot of breweries opening up, also give some thought to how many places there are that have little or no craft yet. We’re really still a niche, but alongside industry leaders like Goose Island many of us are positioning our industry for the mainstream. Get ready to see some shit.
9. They can take you from 312 and Green Line all the way to Bourbon County and Juliet.
We all have friends that just can’t seem to get into craft beer. It’s always baffling. Maybe he’s a design guy who appreciates artisan everything and demands high quality for his dollars, but, when it comes to ordering a drink, it’s Bud Light Lime time. For people like our buddy to make the jump, Goose is a perfect brewery to carry them through. Goose built its portfolio in a city that didn’t really know craft beer yet, so it’s got both the bridge and paradise island on the other side. From approachable to challenging, their shit can open some eyes, and it was built from the ground up to evangelize. Preach and convert, baby.
10. They know how to party.
When Goose Island throws a party, the Chicago beer community converges on Fulton Street. Others come in by the thousands. It’s really a beautiful sight.
11. We’re not the only ones who think this.
You don’t have to take our word for it. I decided to reach out to a few influencers from across the Chicago beer scene. A simple question was asked, “Why should people drink Goose Island?” Here are their answers:
“Goose Island Fulton St. is still the innovative brewer it was before the sale. They continue to have one of the most expansive barrel-aging operations in the country and their highest-quality products are beers still made here, by Chicagoans.” – Pete Crowley, Haymarket Pub & Brewery
“I’m always big on understanding the history of brewing in any given area and Goose Island is the cornerstone in Chicago’s brewing heritage. From the classic English styles like Honker’s Ale to the creation of the bourbon barrel-aged beer style, the brewery that John and Greg Hall built should still be recognized for all they have done to allow the rest of us to be where we are today.” – Tom Korder, Penrose Brewing Company
“If you’re someone who thinks that Goose Island is some corporate sellout, then you’re just not paying attention. Craft is about valuing local producers pushing their skills and serving the community around them, and that means Goose is still the most important craft brewer in Chicago. I know the brewers, the sales team, the innovators, and they’re out there every day trying to win new craft consumers for us all. Craft drinkers have good reason to be skeptical — acquisitions in the ’80s and ’90s weren’t structured to serve consumers — they were death sentences for brands we cared about. But craft is different. It’s a growing niche in the industry that can’t be exploited through traditional marketing techniques — it has to be lived. And Goose Island is living it as hard as anyone in the country right now.” – Michael Kiser, Good Beer Hunting
“Nobody can touch what they’re doing with the Vintage Series coming out of the Chicago brewery. The refinement, elegance and complexity of Sophie, Matilda, and Pere Jacques is unmatched.” – Chris Quinn, The Beer Temple
As John Hall likes to say, “Come on.” Really, talk to the guy for five minutes and I guarantee you hear “come on” a dozen times. The only argument I hear that I give a damn about is that people don’t want their hard-earned dollars enriching a giant international conglomerate’s shareholders; there’s plenty of fine local beer, the purchase of which supports small business owners in our city. If that’s your dilemma, fine. If you like a smaller brewery now but for them to be successful they need to grow, and that means eventually their owners may sell. Welcome to the economy, folks. What’s the difference between stuffing a few local wealthy people’s pockets versus some anonymous shareholders?
For beer to go from grain to glass it often takes manufacturers, distributors, retailers, bar staff, and more. These are those people. These are their stories.
Be sure to follow us on Social Media as we invade more breweries and discover more awesome craft beers from all over the world! Cheers humans!