Last weekend, Goose Island Beer Company closed its 10,500 square-foot Philadelphia location permanently, after almost two and a half years in the city’s gentrified Fishtown section, citing COVID-19 as the culprit. The announcement comes just weeks after the brewery’s 2020 Bourbon County Stout release, one of the most highly-anticipated releases throughout the craft beer community, and it left many of the area’s beer influencers and snobs saying “good riddance.”
No one was actually celebrating the fact that dozens of employees lost their jobs but that a brewery, owned by one of the country’s largest mass-producers of beer, was no longer pushing their product in the area and thus allowing people to turn their focus on more hyper-local breweries. Goose Island was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev back in 2011 and since that time many have stuck their nose up at the brewery, complaining that it sold out or “went mainstream.” Much the way Metallica fans thought the band sold out after the release of their 1991 self-titled album or the way Star Wars fans thought the franchise sold out prior to George Lucas creating the prequels, beer snobs don’t like the idea of breweries becoming more mainstream, with the backing of, what they believe, is a dreaded company.
Because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like the potential for growth and more money? But financial gains and a larger distribution footprint don’t affect the consumer – what does affect them is creativity. Mass-produced beer is fine, it’s tasty enough and has a time and place, serving well when called upon, however if an innovative brewery is sold to a company that offers no real individuality between their light pilsner beer, their premium light lager and a couple of other efforts, drinkers blacklist it. That’s exactly what, in large part, the reaction was for Dogfish Head Brewery last year when it announced a merger with Samuel Adams as part of the largest craft beer move of its kind, one that made Boston Beer Company, the parent company of Samuel Adams, the country’s second largest producer of craft beer.
Beer snobs wrote Dogfish Head off almost immediately, thinking all creative licenses would be stripped away and it would be sterilized, with just the same nine year-round efforts. That’s right, the brewery that’s done more for craft beer than perhaps any other in the world, from creating one of the first Imperial IPAs to popularizing pumpkin beer to creating an acidic beer that develops film, would simply stop being inventive and get lazy – almost like it’s Scrooge McDuck, just sitting in offices greedily counting gold coins each and every day. Keep in mind, the founder is still calling the shots.
So, what was one of the first things Dogfish Head did when it merged? The Delaware-based brewery created Utopias Barrel-Aged World Wide Stout, a behemoth 17.3% ABV take on their best selling stout, with the help of Samuel Adams’ extremely boozy, highly sought after, ale. Then the brewery only released it in its home state.
There are certainly instances where selling out does not work and one of the best examples is Ballast Point Brewing Company. Sold to Constellation Brands – which owns Corona, Modelo and Pacifico – in 2015 for an unbelievable $1 billion, Ballast point failed to evolve and it’s once new and experimental beers became standard efforts, creating stale choices for the consumer, even if it was constantly doing unique and fun things in its San Diego-area locations. Ultimately, Ballast Point was basically left for dead, picking up the pieces after being sold to a small Chicago-based brewery.
Goose Island’s Philadelphia location is a different example than Dogfish Head or Ballast Point. With no real ties to the city, Goose Island swooped in and opened a massive brewpub. That can be a turnoff to a large subsection of the population who feel it’s not necessary to support a brand they deem to be an outsider, especially one without much of a community-minded agenda.
Sure, it was the official beer of the Philadelphia Eagles, which it made sure everyone knew, but there was no much outreach – just a large hangout spot that served tasty, sometimes hard-to-find, beer at a location that was right near a couple of the city’s newest entertainment venues. And, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that. There can be hyper-local craft breweries and more mainstream breweries in the same area – and it’s fine to enjoy beer from both. And before you ask why, since AB InBev is worth so much, the Fishtown location didn’t continue to operate until the world got back to normal, would you run a business that bled cash for the foreseeable future?
Goose Island is far from dead, as it’s main Chicago brewery will still pump out creative new beer and all of the hits like 312 Urban Wheat Ale, IPA and all of those coveted stouts. So support all craft beer, from your favorite local brewery to mainstream ones with a corporate backing – and don’t be a snob, because beer is all completely subjective.