Chicago’s Goose Island Brewing Lands in British Columbia During Migration Week
Goose Island has quite the reputation. A tradition of innovative and traditionally styled beers has created a nation (south of the 49th) that follows the brand with great adoration. On the other side of the coin, haters gonna hate. While the brewery was founded in 1988 by John Hall in Chicago Illinois as a brewpub, it was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2011.
Despite the weight behind the brewery, a craft mentality has remained with the beer. In 2014 The well-known Sophie and Matilda Belgian beers were imported into British Columbia in their 750ml bottles. In 2015 other staples of the lineup such as the Honkers Ale, India Pale Ale and select seasonal offerings will be finding their way into BC in kegs and 6-packs of bottles.
The main brewery in Chicago still uses its brew house from prior to being purchased. A 60HL system fills tanks as large as 420HL. The fermenter size is something well beyond the capacity of any BC based brewery but a 60HL brewhouse is not all that big. There are several BC based craft breweries that use a similar system.
The truly unique Goose Island beers like the Sophie, Matilda and the iconic Bourbon County beers will likely always be brewed in the Chicago facility as the craftsmanship required does not scale well. In order to meet demand however, some of the product is now brewed in a larger (macro) facility outside of Chicago. Your 6-pack of Honkers was not technically brewed by Goose Island but they do check the quality of every single batch in order to maintain a level of consistency and quality for all beers adorned with the Goose Island logo.
British Columbia has been targeted by the Goose Island team as a premier market within Canada. We British Columbians drink a lot of high quality craft beer, and hold great potential for a brand looking to enter Canadian markets. Beer Me BC attended a couple of key learning sessions coinciding with their Migration Week brand push and it was a great experience.
In spending time with Goose Island, or any brewery for, the two most important areas of measure are the quality of beer, and the quality of people. Experience shows that it is difficult to have one without the other.
Visiting Vancouver for Migration Week, a combination of educators, marketers and, of course, a brewer made the trek to Vancouver. Each and every Goose Island employee appears to be in it for the beer. They are passionate about the story of the brewery, the brand image and the quality and consistency of their beer. Tasting a world renowned beer like the Bourbon County Stout and seeing brewer Austin Niestrom’s eyes light up while he passionately describes what has gone into the production of the beer is rather inspiring.
In the case of Goose Island it appears that Anheuser-Busch InBev has brought three things to the table. They have provided capital, materials and distribution. What was once a small Chicago brewery now has the capital to grow, access to the hops, barley and other ingredients that they need, and has the ability to distribute their product where it was never possible before. Craft has not left the brewery but Goose Island has been able to grow and get a pint into the hands of far more beer drinkers than was ever possible before.
BC craft beer drinkers know what they like and Goose Island does not have a free pass to success. They have snuck their foot into the door and it will be interesting to see the product that makes it into the province and how it fares against the plethora of amazing, local craft beer offerings. You be the judge on how Goose Island beer fares against your local, BC craft brewery’s offerings.