Why I lifted my boycott of Goose Island

It’s been almost 3 years since AB-InBev purchased Goose Island, but I can tell you it is still very fresh in the minds of many craft beer fans. This day marked the first major sale of a craft brewery. Goose Island was a storied brand in craft beer. Rising from the ashes of the first craft brewing bubble in the 90s, Goose Island was quickly becoming one of the leaders of craft beer. Goose Island was one of the first breweries to age beer in bourbon barrels, and one of the first American breweries to brew sour beers too.

07_FermentationNeedless to say, it hurt when AB-InBev announced they would be purchasing Goose Island. Hindsight showed us that the writing had been on the wall for 5 years. In 2006 Goose Island entered into an agreement with Widmer Brothers Brewery. Widmer agreed to purchase a 42% stake in Goose Island and would distribute their beers in the Western US. Of course later we all came to learn Anheuser-Busch owned a 33% stake in Widmer Brothers Brewery. AB-InBev purchased 58% of Goose Island from Fulton Street Brewery (the legal name of Goose Island) and then purchased the remaining 42% from Widmer.

So there’s a brief history of the purchase of Goose Island. This purchase was quite upsetting to the craft beer community. Many people including myself vowed to never purchase Goose Island again since they were a “sellout” and weren’t respecting the ideals of Craft Beer. You can find dozens of blogs on the web stating why it’s morally objectionable to purchase Goose Island beer. And there is some truth to that. But there may be a larger, possibly more important picture.

The larger picture includes a couple parts. The first part is the beer itself. Goose Island makes some quality beer. Bourbon County Brand Stout and their line of Barrel Aged Sour Beers are incredible. Even their Classic line is pretty good. Their IPA is considered to be one of the best English Style IPAs around. And their quality has continued post purchase with new releases like Ten Hills Pale Ale, which has seen very good reviews since its release. But then I hear, “We are still giving money to evil AB-InBev!” Okay.. I don’t like giving them money either. But the bigger picture includes getting everyone access to better beer right? Buying Goose Island sends the message to their owner, this is good beer, and it’s selling. Then it might encourage AB-InBev to quit cutting corners and produce more good beer. One thing that I feel pretty sure of, if Goose Island doesn’t sell and continue to grow, the brand will be discarded to the bucket of beer failures. To languish with Zima, Wild Goose, Oxford Brewing, Balentine, and more

11_Barrel_WarehouseAnd then there’s the most important part of this larger picture. The people. If Goose Island doesn’t meet expectations a few different things can happen. The whole thing could be scrapped. Keeping only a few employees that are willing to assimilate into the greater AB-InBev corporate culture. Another possible outcome might be getting rid of Goose Island’s expensive and creative barrel program, and reduce the portfolio to only include the large volume sellers like Honkers Ale, IPA, and 312 Urban Wheat. Either way a lot of job would be lost. So while AB-InBev might be an evil corporation it doesn’t mean the people who work at Goose Island are. Well, maybe a few are, wouldn’t be unheard of. But regardless, in an economy that hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in the past few years, let’s try to help them stay employed.

So to recap, I am trying to encourage people to reconsider their opinions on Goose Island a little. I have. I want the message to be clear, that I want a good product. If it changes, and becomes a lesser product I will use my capitalist power and move on. But I’m no longer going to abstain solely based on my dislike for the greater corporation. I have actually been impressed that AB-InBev has largely kept Goose Island the same. Letting their brewers experiment, and produce a craft made product. That being said, you won’t catch me with a Honkers Ale or Goose Island IPA in my hand any time soon, but if you see me with a glass of Lolita, don’t judge.