Re-posted from my blog: Malted Musings.
Eli Cannons hosted the Chicago brewery Goose Island the other day and, after enjoying a few of the higher AbV options, I bumped into Henry Jimenez (the state coordinator with Anheuser-Busch) and had an opportunity to talk about the brand and the beer. The big point I wanted to clear up is one that is commonly held by many beer fans (including myself until fairly recently): that if a brand is bought out by AB (Anheuser-Busch, creators of Budweiser) then that brand must thereby be “sellouts” and not of the same high quality that they were before their corporate takeover. After asking him how he reacts to this line of thinking, Henry looked like he had heard it way too many times before, and answered my question with another question, “Does being owned by AB really change how Goose Island tastes?”
He brought up a valid point. Many beer fans will enjoy a beer greatly, but as soon as they hear it’s an AB beer, then all of a sudden they’ll invent some way that the beer isn’t quite as good. Henry went on to give a few concrete examples of how Goose Island’s quality has increased since being bought by AB (in March 2011). For starters, some of the production of Goose Island’s flagship beers are being brewed in New York in order to take brewing strain off of the main brewery in Chicago. These satellite breweries use the same original recipes created by Goose Island. The added breweries also increase the freshness of the beer as they can be shipped out in a more prompt fashion or (in a second example Henry told me) sit for longer to reach peak fermentation.
This example in question concerns this year’s batch of Summertime (the seasonal ale). Due to the increased space for production and shipping, this year’s batch had the opportunity to sit for a few extra months before being distributed, thus allowing further fermentation. The result (according to Henry) is a Summertime that has been lauded as the best vintage that Goose Island has ever put out (having a mug of it myself, I had to agree that it was a heck of a tasty beer). Henry went on to say that by having a stronger production arm, Goose Island is free to take up most of the space in their Chicago brewery for new, exciting, experimental beers (such as their highly praised Bourbon County series).
Henry went on to say that Goose Island is the only brewery partly owned by AB right now, and (as far as he knows) AB has no future plans to purchase more craft breweries. When asked why, Henry said it wouldn’t make sense. AB is known for doing one thing and doing it really well (such as mass producing America’s most popular beer, like it or not craft fans!). They are applying the same philosophy to aiding Goose Island: they will be focus-driven to help Goose Island keep developing new and better beers, altogether strengthening the brewery. By doing this AB will center on building up one brewery rather than casting a wide net over several craft breweries.
The main tenet, says Henry, of Goose Island is and always has been quality. The Chicago brewery has historically prided itself on producing beer that is of a (truly) world class quality, regardless of the production run. By sticking to the basics of freshness and a balanced taste, Goose Island will continue to put out beer that they deem a high enough quality for their fanbase, but now they will have vastly expanded production lines. And, theoretically, that should be enough. Despite the grand ideals, there has been vast skepticism and rumblings in the craft beer world about how AB is ruining the brand, running a great craft brewery into the ground, destroying craft beer, etc, etc. Having enjoyed a few Goose Island’s of rather high quality on this particular evening, I have to agree with Henry when he told me, “Who cares who it’s owned by? Drink the beer for yourself, it’s good!”
As for future beer production, Goose Island has an Oktoberfest and Imperial IPA in the works, as well as a fresh casked round of the Bourbon County line just about ready to go. Further down the road there’s a harvest ale in the works, basically a change to the Christmas Ale they’ve already put out. A lot of people have doubted Goose Island’s majority selling (58%) to AB, but I can see the logic of having a ton of extra space and production space. As long as AB continues being hands-off with the recipes (which Henry adamantly told me was true) then I will continue enjoying the delicious and varied styles from Goose Island!
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