Now that I’ve returned from drinking my way through the vineyards and breweries of Europe, I am back in the role of ‘beer buyer’ for a restaurant group (currently with three locations, soon to be four). In fact, its one of my favorite duties. Sort of like a baseball card collection kept at three different homes.
Within a week or so of landing in Paris in early June, I heard the news that microbrewery Goose Island was bought out by Anheuser Busch—who themselves are now owned by multi-national, mega-conglomerate, InBev—as my secret spy radio was tuned to the Craft Beer Resistance’s all-points bulletin.
I guess I wasn’t all that surprised, as AB had been distributing the Goose’s beers for quite some time—I was a bit taken aback when I first attempted to purchase their beers. “Wait, so you mean we need to fill a credit application out with Anheuser-Busch to buy Goose Island?? Do I need to purchase a Darth Vader helmet, as well?”
Greg Hall, the talented Chicago brewmaster who nurtured Goose Island to success, had paid me a visit a few months before. He was a funny, down to earth, passionate guy; not to mention, his Belgian-line of beers like Sofie and Pere Jacques were tasty, well-made creations. I was eager to have them on my list. So, I got over the whole Budweiser distribution thing and focused on carrying as much of their small-batch stuff as I could. I figured, sure, I’ll swim with the sharks, but I’ll carry a sharp spear for protection.
Fast-forward four months: the landscape has changed. Greg Hall is now out of the picture (the new brewmaster, Brett Porter, is no slouch, however, and worked from 2005 to 2010 as Head Brewer at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon, and also as the Head Brewer of Portland Brewing from 1993 to 2005). I am now torn.
My guess is that many supporters of Magic Hat (who was acquired by North American Breweries, a conglomerate that also owns Labatt Blue, Dundee and Pyramid, to name a few) feel the same way. Nearly the entire Magic Hat brewing team left after the acquisition and many people feel the soul of the brewery did, as well.
So, the debate rages on: do we as craft beer lovers support the brewery that was once the little guy but has now made it big? Or do we turn our spotlight away and find a new little guy?