Sofie Belgian Style Ale by Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. is one of my favorite beers( I have many), so when I first heard the news of AB InBev buying the company for $39 million, I was taken back some. But, I reserved judgment and soaked in all the banter on the internet as beer enthusiasts weighed in with their thoughts: Mostly people upset, feeling betrayed and that Goose Island sold out. That, and some sycophants kissing ass on Brewemaster Greg Hall’s Facebook page. Or, at least it looks that way with no dissenting comments.
Whether this sale is a good thing depends on where you are standing. From Greg Hall’s perspective, it’s great. He has provided financial freedom for he and his family virtually forever. And hey, that’s all part of the American dream, so you can’t knock the man. I don’t believe there are many amongst us, who if given the chance to make this Faustian deal, would do otherwise. So, that should be the end of the debate right there, right? But, of course, it’s not.
This purchase will likely have an eventual ripple effect, in the form of cost cutting, layoffs, dumbing down of recipes, the large muscle of the AB InBev taking up even more shelf space and tap handles at retail outlets. But the largest effect, in my opinion, is the resentment felt by loyal Goose Island customers, who had what they felt was an intimate relationship with an independent brewing company, an unspoken agreement, a hometown hero they could believe in and stand behind. That was all ripped away in what was tantamount to a “Dear John” text message.
I believe Goose Island will over time limp off into the sunset and join the ranks of other AB InBev acquisitions such as Red Hook, and old Chicagoland favorites such as MeisterBrau and Old Style, whose time has past. Gone, but not forgotten. When’s the last time you saw someone drink a Red Hook, anyway?
Whatever happens, other craft brewers, who are in the on-deck circle to be purchased by mega corporations will be learning vicariously, taking notes and Googling the word Faustian.