You might think about picking up a six-pack of Goose Island beer. Anheuser-Busch was thinking more like the whole brewery. The company announced yesterday that it had acquired the craft brewer based out of Chicago, a relationship that began with Anheuser-Busch serving as the company's distribution partner.
Anheuser-Busch purchased the rights to Fulton Street Brewery LLC, the legal name of Goose Island. But the two brewpubs in Chicago will continue to be independently run and operated; they were not part of the deal.
AB completed the deal in two parts. The company purchased the majority from the founders (58 percent) and the remaining ownership shares (42 percent) from the Craft Brewers Alliance, Inc. (the operators of Widmer Brothers, Redhook and Kona breweries). The good news for Goose Island fans is that Anheuser-Busch is committing $1.3 million to infrastructure improvements to increase production capacity by this summer, and, for now, the beer will continue to be made in Chicago.
Consider this the next era in beer consolidation. Anheuser-Busch was purchased by InBev in 2008 and now is looking at craft brewers in pursuit of growth. The Denver Business Journal reported that the Brewers Association, based in Boulder, Colorado, noted that while overall beer sales fell by 1 percent, craft-beer sales rose 12 percent by sales and 11 percent by volume in 2010. In other words, we're drinking slightly less beer, but more of what we drink is from craft brewers.
So rather than launch a derivative beer that might not appeal to the core Bud drinker, it makes a lot more sense to simply go out and buy an entire brewery that already has managed to capture the market for wheat drinkers or stout lovers. There are a number of craft brewers that exist somewhere in the huge space between micro breweries and national operations. And with a likely future policy of growth by acquisition, Goose Island will not be the last craft brewer purchased in the near future. My bet? The Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas. The fourth largest craft brewer in the United States -- maker of Shiner Bock -- has a compelling back story and is no longer owned by the family of the founders. And its national profile, just like Goose Island, is rising with increased distribution.