It probably only was a matter of time before AB InBev would unveil their plan for the world and how to control it, and the veil has dropped. Anheuser-Busch InBev will roll out bars across the globe where craft beer by Goose Island will be the leading brand. It beats the likes of Hoegaarden for marketing support – but will it still be seen as an American beer, let alone an American craft beer?
Some publications already noted back in December the opening of a Goose Island pub in London was not a random operation: parent company AB InBev is planning to open up Goose Island brewpubs in Sao Paolo (Brazil), Seoul (South Korea), Shanghai (China), Toronto (Canada) and Philadelphia. These will actually be ‘gastro pubs’ with a small brewery on-site, replicating the original Goose Island brewpub in Chicago. Goose Island will thus be brewed on almost all continents: in various AB InBev breweries in America (including the original Chicago facility), in at least one AB InBev brewery in China (and probably one in Europe too) and in the chain of brewpubs.
Apparently AB InBev is not doing brewpubs only: a series of ‘Vintage Ale Houses’, where they will serve food but not brew on-site and focus on the high-end range will span the globe, and of course tons of Goose Island branded bars and pubs, simply serving GI beer. Where, in traditional watering holes, a pilsener or lager would be the ‘lead beer’, these pubs will have Goose Island IPA as flagship.
Yet the most astonishing part of this story is the reasoning behind it: Ken Stout, the President of Goose Island, stated: “if we don’t do it, somebody else is going to.” There’s true beer passion for you.
Meanwhile, and obviously related, one of the founding beers of AB InBev, Hoegaarden, may face tougher times in the global family of AB InBev ‘craft’ beers: the entire marketing budget for the beer in Europe is being relocated to support Radler and non-alcoholic versions. The original ‘witbier’ has stopped growing and may have lost its traction in Europe. With understated passion for the product Korneel Warloop, spokesperson for AB InBev, said that ‘In the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if we promote witbier or it’s derivatives Radler and alcohol free: they are witbier-based after all’. In Asia, they will continue to focus on the (original) beer.
One could argue that Goose Island going global is the final triumph for the organization that has been promoting American Craft beer for ages, the Brewers Association. However, its CEO Bob Pease, had an interesting statement on it. “A lot of American craft breweries sell significant volume overseas, but breweries that sell significant stakes abroad — like Goose Island and Lagunitas — are primed to dominate. But I’m not so sure that those are American brands,” Bob said. “Certainly Goose is a Chicago brand, but they’re owned by a company that’s not headquartered in the United States.” That is a much more realistic view than, for example, the average Belgian citizen has when they persist in calling Anheuser-Busch InBev ‘a Belgian family-owned brewery’. The only thing referring to the Belgian origin is the ‘In’-part in the name, and the reason the company is technically headquartered in Belgium is to minimize tax payments – a great way to say ‘thank you’ to that same Belgium consumer, who pays increasingly more for beers that deliver increasingly less – in tax return and enjoyment.
Bob Pease is a smart man, so let’s finish this blog by some warning words he spoke on the matter of Goose Island’s global expansion: “The beers they make are great, and I’m sure Goose Island pubs around the world will do very well. We have nothing but respect for the quality of the beers coming out of Goose Island, but do I think that’s it’s a good thing for one company to have that much control of the domestic and international market? No — I do not think that’s a good thing.” Bob obviously referred to the fact that AB InBev, GI’s Brazilian parent company, now supplies three out of every ten beers consumed, world-wide. Think about that when a crafty bar opens near you one day.