Earlier this week (or maybe it was last week, I don’t remember), the beer world was abuzz with the news the Anheuser-Busch/InBev had an agreement to buy Goose Island (the brewpubs were not part of the deal). Commentaries are split between this being a good thing, this being a bad thing, and not having an opinion until we see what happens. Here’s my take on this particular deal and on brewery mergers and buy-outs in general.
I tend to lean towards optimism. The big breweries have been losing market share to craft beer for the past few years now. Craft beer has caught on and people are getting into it. While there will always be a place for the big breweries, and it might even be with the majority of the market, there’s no denying the impact craft beer has had. The number crunchers at the big breweries see this. It’s why Coors is marketing Blue Moon so much and why A-B/InBev pushes Shock Top and the Michelob brands. They’re after the craft beer market. Unfortunately, the A-B/InBev line of “craft” beer isn’t really coming close to craft beer, with a couple of exceptions from the Michelob lineup. The big breweries have the ability to brew seriously high quality beer. After all, they have some of the best quality control in the industry.
Those wannabe craft brands from the big breweries aren’t really cutting it. And the small breweries are seeing huge expenses in brewing and distribution. So we’re seeing them pair up. Goose Island already uses the A-B distributor for their product. It gives them access to a larger market. This is really the next step. It gives Goose Island access to more funds to increase production of their very popular beers and add to their lineup. So long as A-B/InBev gives them full independence in their brewing, I do not see anything wrong with the buy-out. It seems like a win-win for both companies. Goose Island can continue doing what they do and increase what they do. A-B/InBev gets actual access to the craft beer market. I believe as part of the deal, Goose Island also said that they want to continue brewing in Chicago, which means they keep their staff and their brewery.
We’re going to see more of this. We’ve already started to see it with things like the Craft Brewers Alliance, whose membership included Goose Island prior to this deal, and Independent Brewers United, which included Magic Hat and Pyramid. IBU was recently purchased as well. Anchor was just purchased. Otter Creek was recently purchased by Long Trail. It’s going to continue to happen as breweries need access to additional resources – both financial and equipment/space. So long as these breweries are allowed to continue doing what they do best, I don’t see a problem with it
I will continue to support Goose Island, even though they are owned by A-B/InBev. Unfortunately, many fans of craft beer care more about where the money goes than the beer itself and will now write off Goose Island as just another sellout to the big guys. I am a fan of beer. If it’s good for the beer, it’s good for me. This move, so far, looks to be good for the beer, but only time will tell if this actually is a good thing.