Bud buying Goose? Maybe not so bad.
Okay, Goose Island will be a Budweiser company now. Is that a good or a bad thing? Well, let’s take a look at what’s happened when big brewers have bought out other smaller guys.
Bud bought Widmer and Redhook, and the consensus of beer geeks on Beeradvocate is that both have declined a bit in quality. Looking at ratings on Ratebeer and Beeradvocate, though, it’s clear they’re both still excellent craft breweries, albeit not at the level of Goose. But whenever I visit my beer-challenged brother in Texas, and see his beer fridge stocked with Bud Light, at least I know I can go out and get a mixed 12-pack of Redhook to get me through a few days.
So it appears that Budweiser hasn’t especially hurt Widmer and Redhook. And Bud’s attempts to build its own “craft brewery” – Shock Top — have shown that they can’t do a credible craft brewery in-house. Which is why they need to buy others.
The story of Miller’s acquisitions is more divergent.
Miller bought Celis, an excellent brewery in Texas started by Pierre Celis — the guy who revived the Belgian wit style, by introducing Hoëgarden. After his brewery burned down (he was uninsured) he sold Hoëgarden to InBev to raise cash, and started a brewery in Austin Texas. In Texas, he turned out a number of well-respected beers — Celis White, a classic witbier in particular — and initially worked out a distribution deal with Miller. Later, in April 2000, Miller bought out Celis. By December of that year Miller had shut it down. saying it wasn’t making enough money. Michigan Brewing in Webberville purchased the Celis brand and some of the equipment, and the Celis White they’re turning out is, reportedly, an impressive replica of the Texas brew. Sadly, it’s not available in Illinois, Indiana or Wisconsin.
So being purchased by Miller was not good for Celis, although, ultimately, there was a semi-happy ending.
Miller also bought Leinenkugel in 1988. It’s a completely different story. Post-acquisition, Leinie used Miller’s R&D capabilities and financial and distribution resources to expand their line into a wide variety of specialty beers, including, reportedly, a soon-to-appear Russian Imperial Stout. The Leinenkugel family is still in control of the business, so I expect when they journey down to Milwaukee (or Wacker Drive in Chicago) for quarterly profitability meetings, the numbers are good enough that Miller essentially keeps hands off.
Miller has been good to Leinenkugel.
Along with the takeover, it was announced that Brett Porter, who has been brewing with Goose Island since May 2010, will replace Greg Hall as brewmaster. Porter has an impressive resume, although there’s been some speculation that he might become the “Budweiser guy” in charge. Based on his resumé, it’s unlikely, but we’ll see.
But you have to either respect or pity a guy with that name in the beer biz. To quote the late Michael Jackson (no, not that one … the influential, ultimate beer geek) on the history of Brett Porters, “Even after or War II, at least one German brewer continued to make a ‘British-style’ Porter with a Brettanomyces yeast culture. This type of yeast typically developed during the long maturation of strong, export Porters in the huge wooden tuns of the Victorian period. The brewer told me that a Porter without the ‘horse blanket’ aroma of Brettanomyces would have been thought ‘insufficiently British’.”
Some are wailing that the Budweiser takeover may mean the death of Goose Island. That’s doubtful, based on the Widmer and Redhook experiences. I’m guessing it’ll be more like the Leinenkugel/Miller experience than Celis/Miller.
And others have bemoaned money earned by Goose going to that megabrewer in St. Louis. But it’s clear that Goose was bursting at the seams — even having to outsource some production to New Hampshire. It’ll be a bigger Goose, employing more here. And I’m guessing as long as the revenues continue to grow, so will Bud’s investment in Goose.
It actually could be a good thing.