I’ve spent nearly 30 years in craft beer and I strongly disagree with those who fear craft is on the verge of collapse. This is an argument made most recently by Boston Beer founder and CEO Jim Koch in an op-ed in
The New York Times, where he rhetorically asked: “Is it last call for craft beer?”
It is understandable why Jim is concerned, his company is experiencing a rough stretch. But a look at craft beer’s history and its current position all point to a bright future for our industry as a whole because it is so diverse, innovative and in-synch with customers.
When Goose Island opened in 1988, there were fewer than 100 breweries in the country. Most wholesalers, retailers and beer drinkers treated us a curiosity if they were aware of us at all. We had to battle many times to get a single craft draft handle in an on-premise account. Any bottle placements were on to the bottom shelf at grocery and liquor stores.
With small brewers in many states now allowed to self-distribute and/or operate taprooms, it completely changes their economics. No longer is scale the critical factor in their success. This dynamic shift with more new breweries and more amazing high-quality beers has and will continue to make the craft segment stronger and increase market share.
In 2011 like many other craft brewers, Goose Island had to make a choice.
We could contract brew, like others, including Boston Beer, did for many years. We met with private equity investors and contemplated doing an IPO, but didn’t like the idea of reporting every quarter to Wall Street. So, we struck a deal with Anheuser-Busch. Like all big business decisions, it was risky being one of the first craft brewers to partner with a big brewer. But we preferred to partner with brewers who understood the beer business.
Through our partnership with Anheuser-Busch, Goose Island was able to do what Boston Beer did, reach consumers nationwide while retaining the quality and integrity of our beer, and our brand.
Today, over 5,300 brewers across the U.S. face similar choices. Some will stay small and local. Others will seek to grow through partnerships, IPOs or other means. Some will succeed and others will not. But craft beer will be more vibrant and creative than ever and beer drinkers will be the big winners.
John Hall started Goose Island Beer Company in 1998. Its beer is distributed in all 50 states.