No harm, no fowl
Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall talks about why selling more beer doesn't mean selling out.
Until just a few weeks ago, it would have been blasphemous to mention Goose Island in the same breath as Anheuser-Busch. Not anymore. The Chicago-based brewery recently entered into a distribution agreement with the independent network of Anheuser-Busch distributors, giving it access to every market that carries Bud, Busch and Michelob. It’s a deal that has local beer advocates up in arms, but Goose Island brewmaster Greg Hall contends that his company is still an island.
This deal will ostensibly help to sell more Goose Island beer, because it will be in more places. Are you going to be able to keep up with the demand?
That’s a good question. We have the capacity right now to do about 150 percent more beer for the Illinois market than we did last year. So we have a lot of cushion for growth.
And all the beer will continue to be made in Chicago, with you still overseeing?
Yes, absolutely. In some of the blogs it’s like, “They’re going to lighten everything up now.” Actually, today we’re bottling our Bourbon County Stout...that’s like the least light beer on the planet.
I think people are really scared of the words Anheuser-Busch—they just associate it with mainstream beer. How do they fit into the agreement?
They are one of the most sophisticated distribution outfits anywhere on the planet. Bud has their stuff everywhere. They really focus on getting their beer in and out quickly.
Some people believe that craft breweries and mass-market breweries like Anheuser-Busch shouldn’t mix, simply on principle. I heard one person describe it as “an unholy alliance.”
I do understand that some people think that way, but I don’t understand why. We make the beer. We package the beer. We are not allowed by Illinois state law to deliver the beer to the retailer. We put the beer on a truck, the truck delivers the beer to the retailer. The other stuff on the truck or what it says on the outside of the truck does nothing to alter the Goose Island beer. It’s the same beer from the same brewery, only now it’s on a different truck.We still support local music, writing and drinking, river cleanups, bike rides, softball teams, gallery openings and almost every local charity or fund-raiser that asks for help. That doesn’t change. The delivery truck changes, gets Goose Island beer to more bars, taverns, stores, which allows more people to drink our beer and then allows Goose Island to support more local music, etc. All the Goose Island people still live here, shop here, bike here, see bands here. How can that be a bad thing?
I was in a liquor store the other day, and we were talking about this. Their only concern about the new deal was that they might not get some of the limited edition stuff they get now. Do small, independent liquor stores have any reason to worry?
No, its just the opposite. They will have more access to it. And the nice thing is that if you live in Peoria or if you live in Carbondale you will have access to it now, too. Which unless you were at Sam’s or Binny’s or Whole Foods or West Lakeview Liquors, that was about the only place you could find it.
Is this the way you see the beer business going? You guys aren’t the only craft brewers hooking up with bigger beer companies.
It’s really not just a beer question; it’s just a consumer goods question. Ten years ago in this industry, no one talked about distribution, because we were all growing off of such a small base that we didn’t really have to worry about how we are going to get all the beer out there. Ten years ago, there weren’t a lot of people that were drinking craft beer. But now, I was out at the Kane County Cougar’s game in Geneva, and everyone was drinking craft beer.
Final question: It’s 95 degrees and you’re at a Cubs game. Do you drink an Old Style?
You know what, I would drink an Old Style, and I would drink the Bud that they’ve got there. I generally never drink a light beer, because light beer doesn’t really do it for me no matter who makes it. But I like beer. Hopefully in a month or two, I’ll be at a Cubs game and it will be 95 degrees and I’ll be able to drink a [Goose Island] Summertime.