03 December 2012

Commentary/Conversation | Is Goose Island As We Know It Dead?

Jake: Not sure if all of you have seen the press release in the Chicago Tribune, but John Laffler [one of Goose Island's barrel-aging brewers] is leaving Goose Island to start his own deal with the former cellarman [Dave Bleitner] from Two Brothers.

Simple question up for debate: Even with [brewer] Tom Korder left at Goose Island, does the news of John Laffler leaving finalize the death nell for Goose Island?

In my mind, it does. As we all know, each person has a different palate and in my mind, only experience can help get a palate where it needs to be to determine when a beer is ready from barrels. I am sure Laffler passed on some of the secrets to those he trusted, but the wealth of knowledge he takes with him, plus the change in [Goose Island founder] John Hall's role, is the final nail in the coffin for what we once knew as Goose Island. I am sure the next few releases will be on par, but I doubt the quality exists in two years.

Rod: To be perfectly honest, I'm curious how much longer Tom Korder stays. Any time key staff leaves a brewery, you have to ask yourself this question. I don't think it definitively means that Goose Island, brewer of one of the finest imperial stouts in the world, is dead. But it does certainly stack the cards against them. When it comes down to it, brewing is both an art and a science. A lot of the "art" side of Goose Island is leaving. I just hope that their successors are equally as creative. Speaking of, does anyone know who is filling Laffler's role and what that person's credentials are?

Also, haven't the Halls been out of Goose Island pretty much since they were purchased (but perhaps unofficially)?

In brighter news, I am very excited for Laffler's new venture.

Jason: I don't like to count someone out until the quality suffers, so I won't carve a gravestone for them. They wouldn't be the first brewery to lose a brewer yet survive.

Of course, I can think of breweries that did not survive or have struggled in the wake of a brewer departure. So what the fuck do I know?

Jake: Rod - Sounds like Laffler just officially announced it last week, so I do not know what the succession plan is. Greg Hall [former Goose Island brewmaster] has been gone since right around the purchase to focus on Virtue Cider (also awesome), but I think John stayed more hands on. I doubt any of us will ever know what level of influence he had though.

Jason - You make a valid point as always. I just know personally some of the luster is lost with the "art" side leaving as Rod said.

Matt: The issue for me is always going to be about quality. Bourbon Country Stout is one of the finest beers that is available in the beer world. If that quality goes away, then rip BCS. I really want to believe though that the very special beers from Goose Island will be continue to be impressive. Some of my beer highlights this year were King Henry, Bramble, BCS, and the individual staves of BCS at the Great Taste of the Midwest. The Goose Island truffle beer I had at The Great American Beer fest remains one of the best things I've ever consumed. It comes down to quality for me, and this supersedes the local movement. I'm sure that pisses some people off, but no one else locally is making a barrel aged stout that is semi-easily-available at a reasonable price or on par with that type of quality. We have great beer here, don't get me wrong, and I think Indiana breweries really excel at brewing wonderfully approachable beer. In due time perhaps someone here will also make a beer on par with BCS and then we can have our cake and eat it too.

I remember being at the Rathskeller shortly after InBev bought Goose Island. A guy sitting at the table next to us was saying how he could never support Goose Island again since they were now owned by InBev. He then bought a pint of Franziskaner Hefeweiss, an InBev product. I find it hypocritical to cherry pick where people are taking their "beer" stand without really knowing the full scope of ultimate parent companies. The Goose Island situation is just easy to hate. I don't enjoy that fact that InBev bought Goose Island, but I know people that work for Goose Island and they are employed in Chicago. I still feel pretty good about supporting them. Simply because my funds are not going to one individual local owner doesn't make me a bad person, and I'm not going to feel bad for buying Goose Island products as long the quality is still world class. If BCS is terrible, I won't be buying anymore.

People are freaking about what this means for the world of better beer, but I don't think big beer buying up smaller breweries is the issue. I truly think we will see big beer growing vertically and not horizontally any longer. InBev is entering the world of the three-tier system, and that is how they will snuff out selection of better beer, not by buying better beer brewers.

Wish to offer your opinion? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.


  1. If you haven't already please read this article on InBev's ruthless, but(bottom line)effective CEO.


  2. I don't think it's possible to destroy it. America's beer will overcome the attack. That's how democracy won out too! For the people, by the people. Oh, that reminds me of a brewery...weird!?

  3. For me, Goose Island died when it was bought out by AB. I am a purist when it comes to micro-brews and I really hate it that AB bought them out.

  4. Well, Chris beat me to, but I don’t give up that easy. Note that the following is commentary about points of view, and not individual personalities. This is not personal, even if folks keep taking it that way (trust me, it happens). It merely is.

    Yes, when Goose sold out, it died.

    Overnight, every part of it, human or otherwise, became interchangeable and expendable. It matters not one jot who the brewers and cellarmen now are, nor how great they are at their jobs; they can be replaced yesterday with cheaper parts from another part of the larger empire, and the bean counters will make the call.

    We see this all the time with companies in other areas, and we don't flinch. When it happens to a brewery we like, it's time to begin hardcore rationalizing. But why should our reaction be different just because it’s beer and not flanges?

    I still feel bad that Goose is gone. It was the first brewpub I ever visited in America (1992). The memories are pleasant. They're only memories, and have been part of the past since 2008. I mourned Goose, and I accepted its passing. Death is a part of life. We must move forward.

    Matt writes: "Simply because my funds are not going to one individual local owner doesn't make me a bad person, and I'm not going to feel bad for buying Goose Island products as long the quality is still world class."

    No one’s suggesting you feel bad. Rather, what’s being suggested is that one’s own good personal beer ethical code might, just might, extend beyond the relentless self-aggrandizement of today's typically autonomous "geek," back into something approximating community, and into grayer areas beyond Beer Advocate ratings and the thrill of scavenger hunting for rarities.

    Again, Matt: “He then bought a pint of Franziskaner Hefeweiss, an InBev product. I find it hypocritical to cherry pick where people are taking their ‘beer’ stand without really knowing the full scope of ultimate parent companies.”

    Let’s see: You criticize the Hefe drinker for not knowing, and then immediately argue that even if he knows, it doesn’t matter, anyway. Can’t we help him to be informed? Isn’t that the point? I’m prepared to argue that if he’s willing to learn, gradual shifts in principled direction are to be commended, not dismissed.

    Part two coming

  5. In fact, shift happens all the time. It’s the basis for numerous “buy local” campaigns that extend far beyond our little craft beer bailiwick, out into the real world. I believe craft beer can learn something from these movements, and I'm trying to do so myself. It’s gradual, and it’s evolutionary.

    However, in the end, it really comes down to just one consideration.

    For us, as consumers of all items, is the sole and only consideration at stake that we always get what we want, when we want it, and for the price we want to pay, or is there more to it?

    Should there have been economic sanctions against South Africa for apartheid?

    Is the only thing that matters at Wal-Mart the low prices, or is there a higher, hidden cost to these prices (high subsidies and abatements, ruinous low wages across the supply chain, the death of retail communities, etc)?

    Is it just about having the best, world-class basketball shoe ever, or do primitive working conditions in a prison factory in Asia matter?

    Are we islands, or are we connected?

    And of course, there’s another side that so many zombie brand defenders keep missing. The primary reason why AB-InBev cares about Goose in the first place is its utility as a tactical chess piece to keep genuine craft beers off store shelves and draft lines. If you do not believe that AB-InBev would do such a foul thing, I have some New Albany oil fields to sell you.

    A final word about quality: It is quite simply omnipresent. Never in thirty years in and around this business have I had access to so many quality beers, brewed so near to my home. Verily, this is the golden age. When I visit Indianapolis, I drink Flat12, Sun King, Brugge, Broad Ripple Brewing … and on, and on. I can’t possibly drink them all, and it keeps me coming back. World class? It’s in our own back yards.


  6. Roger,

    I appreciate the commentary, and I welcome a healthy exchange of ideas. I think people are far too quick to be upset these days, and the passionate art of debate is a dying art form. I would enjoy nothing more than having a few beers with you and expressing view points. I didn't take it personally, and I hope you don't take this that way.

    I didn't dig far enough into what my thought pattern was when I wrote I what I did. I support my local breweries as often as possible, and I've spent the last five years with this website talking, buying, helping organize the brewer fests, and breathing locally brewed beer. My commitment to that shouldn't be questioned. I never approached saying that our local breweries are not making world class beer because I feel that they do.

    My comment was more directed at the misguided thought patterns of many people. They sit there at a restaurant eating a burger or chicken sandwich with meat from Cargill, cheese on it from Kraft, on bread from General Mills, with vegetables from Dole all while having a local beer and while checking their e-mail on their apple product, but by God they are a locavore! That is what I find "cherry picking" as I noted in the post.

    I would agree with you that education would substantial, but if people are going to take a stand, then by God, have the justification to really stand up to it. Cutting your sails to whatever way the wind is blowing is beyond frustrating to me. As far as I'm concerned all of the companies I mentioned are on equal footing with how terrible of a company they are compared to InBev. Corporations are going to make a profit. Big, small, upstarts, that is the goal. At the very least they need to be able to pay the bills, employees, and hopefully be able to take home a little extra to continue to grow their business.

    How do you feel about Diageo? They are one of the worst culprits about corporate takeovers, cost cutting, and just being a capitalistic giant. why no hate for them and only on InBev?

  7. Short answer: We mustn't assume ignorance is willful. Ignorance means the information is absent. They must be educated. Education takes time, because we must educate ourselves, too, and the world changes quickly. A solid foundation one day is quicksand the next. That's why gradual shift is merited. As one learns, one applies knowledge learned. We still sell Spaten and Franziskaner -- until January 1. As long as it wasn't necessary for me to purchase directly from the local AB-InBev monopolist, there was time to transition the clientele. Now I must sever. Diageo? Not my favorite, but the primary issue is Guinness, and I no longer see Guinness competing with locally brewed beer. We've started brewing stouts year-round, and this process of weaning will continue as it did with Spaten. I'm one person, and we're one company. All the giants cannot be fought at once. But we may be able to slay one at a time, and I'm okay with that. Thanks for the reply.