There are plenty of good-natured April Fool postings circulating through the blogosphere this morning. This is not one of them.
You will recall that Goose Island was purchased last month by Anheuser-Busch InBev, for a total of almost $39 million, $22.5 million to Goose Island plus $16.3 million to minority owner, Craft Brewers Alliance, Inc. Reactions, predictably, were mixed, with some, like this Chicago Tribune staffer, bidding a farewell to the beers they have long enjoyed, others, such as Michigan’s Stu Stuart, mourning what they now see as the brewery’s inevitable demise, and still others, such as the legions of fans posting on Greg Hall’s Facebook page, believing it’s a deserving reward for years of slogging it through the jungle that is the Chicago beer market.
As a writer about beer who has logged almost as many years in this business as have the Halls, John (father) and Greg (son), I am beset by mixed feelings. On the one hand, I would personally welcome the arrival of many millions of dollars and the freedom it would entail, while on the other, I question very strongly the honourability of Anheuser-Busch InBev when it comes to protecting the jobs of Goose Island workers, the involvement of Goose Island in the Chicago community – always a matter of importance for the Halls – and, ultimately, the character of the beer over time.
But that’s not why I’m typing this post. Rather, the raison d’être of this missive is the delivery of the following message: GET USED TO IT!
The craft beer business is booming, counting now for almost 5% of the market in the United States and still experiencing phenomenal growth, even as the overall beer market contracts. It’s only logical that this will cause some larger breweries to wish to acquire smaller ones, and it’s going to happen more and more.
Right now, Sapporo, the large Japanese brewer, is shopping around for a brewery in the States. With the creation of their new craft and import arm, Tenth and Blake, you can bet that MillerCoors has some interest. And I expect several others are in the hunt besides.
It’s called the maturing of the market and it’s as inevitable as death and taxes. Some bought breweries will fall from favour and, eventually, lose relevance. Others will be given the reins and will thrive and prosper. But purchased they will be, and hackles they will raise, and outraged blog posts they will generate.
While all of this is going on, just remember that some 500 new breweries are right now in the planning stages, on top of the 1700 or so already in production. And that’s a lot of beer.