Goose Island, Proof AB InBev Aren’t so Bad?

Having been sucked into the ‘craft’ beer world like many others, I have been quite hostile towards AB InBev (who own around 30% of the global beer market) and any other large drinks conglomerate (Heineken, Constellation etc.). I’ve fallen hook, line and sinker based on propaganda from independent breweries about the tragic taking over of other ‘craft’ breweries – think Camden Town and Meantime to name a couple. It’s not just the propaganda though, it’s word of mouth from people who work in and around the industry, where the stories are that smaller breweries are just being absorbed into the machine, with brands being killed off or quality diluted, and people being made redundant as production moves elsewhere.

Most, if not all of this I believe is true. Business can be quite cut throat and AB InBev won’t have got their market share by not being ruthless and making touch decisions. However, the world we are in now is a different beast and whatever their growth model was before, I think it has adapted. Instead of purchase and absorption, I think in cases it is now more like purchase and invest. I’ve been challenged on this view before, and the example I always give is Goose Island brewery.

Some of the ‘sisters’ – Gillian, Lolita and Halia

Goose Island was bought by AB InBev 6 years ago now, and in that time rather than product dilution, we’ve seen it develop into a global brand. Has quality been sacrificed? I don’t think so, their portfolio of beers including IPA, Honker’s, 312 and the Bourbon County range is as tasty and as good quality as it ever has been, if not better. Which begs the question to me then, does it really matter if a brewery is bought out by a conglomerate?

I find myself with a view now that if the beer is great quality and great taste, then does it matter who is brewing it, where they are brewing it, or who owns the brewery/beers? It’s quite a liberating view because now I’m not thinking about who’s pockets I’m lining with money or whether I should be better supporting independents. For me it’s just about the beer, and if it’s great, then I will drink it. That’s what I want as a beer consumer, pretty  simple I think!

Lots to keep you entertained

So, now that I’m happily liberated from the ties of to drink or not drink certain beers, I recently attended Goose Island’s London Block Party. A celebration of their beers, with music and food, this was a great showcase and with what was available, you would be hard pushed to differentiate this beer event from an independent one, including Brewdog’s AGM.

Taking place in Shoreditch’s Red Market, the site is rustic, rough around the edges and pretty damn cool. Split into a number of different areas, event attendees had lots of choice, from the main stage featuring a variety of musicians (White Lies headlined), to an Oktoberfest celebration, to a funk room, to a traditional bar with piano and sing-along songs – something for everyone.

Bar dedicated to the wonderful Bourbon County range

The beers were of course all Goose beers, starting with the ones I mentioned above, but also the ‘Sisters’, beers with female names celebrating unique and special styles of beer including fruit sours. The pick of the beers for me were the newly launched and incredibly tropical and fresh Midway session IPA (brewed in Australia I was told by someone on Untappd… so what?), Gillian, one of the sisters brewed in the style of a farmhouse saison, and the Bourbon County Brand Stout which had so much dark flavours complexity, but was so smooth and moreish.

This was a really well run event, I expect with a fair bit of investment, and thoroughly enjoyable. Perhaps without AB InBev investment, Goose Island would never have ended up doing an event like this in London. With so much to see, eat and drink, it was a great celebration event and cemented my personal view that although Goose Island are no longer ‘craft’ by the American Brewers Association definition, they absolutely sit right alongside the likes of Brewdog for beers of quality and taste. And also for awesome parties!

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