There have been a lot of books about the craft beer industry, but I think Josh Noel’s latest is particularly fascinating. Chicago’s Goose Island was founded by John Hall, a former box company executive in 1988, a banner year for brewpub startups. But in a way it was John’s son Greg who took the company to the big leagues when others failed. While winning awards for his beer innovations like barrel aging (leading to the hit beer Bourbon County), he also had the marketing acumen to create several mass appeal beer brands like 312 and Green Line. But when Goose Island sold to Anheuser Busch in 2011, it was a classic case of a small company looking for a big partner to help in grow, only to see the promises of autonomy and specialness (InBev, AB’s new parent, went on to buy a dozen more breweries) broken. But the truth is, once you decide you’re going to grow, there’s going to have to be an end game, the never-ending conundrum for family businesses. But then, how do you manage the backlash - will the general public sit back and allow another wave of industry consolidation? As a bonus, for the beeroisseurs, there’s lots of detailed brewmastery stuff. Honestly, if this was about a New York-area brewery, it would be published by one of the big boys. And I’d be disappointed if Barrel-Aged Stout didn’t win some honors come business book award time. That’s how good it is.— Daniel Goldin
Goose Island opened as a family-owned Chicago brewpub in the late 1980s, and it soon became one of the most inventive breweries in the world. In the golden age of light, bland and cheap beers, John Hall and his son Greg brought European flavors to America. With distribution in two dozen states, two brewpubs and status as one of the 20 biggest breweries in the United States, Goose Island became an American success story and was a champion of craft beer. Then, on March 28, 2011, the Halls sold the brewery to Anheuser-Busch InBev, maker of Budweiser, the least craft-like beer imaginable. The sale forced the industry to reckon with craft beer's mainstream appeal and a popularity few envisioned. Josh Noel broke the news of the sale in the Chicago Tribune, and he covered the resulting backlash from Chicagoans and beer fanatics across the country as the discussion escalated into an intellectual craft beer war. Anheuser-Busch has since bought nine other craft breweries, and from among the outcry rises a question that Noel addresses through personal anecdotes from industry leaders: how should a brewery grow?
About the Author
Josh Noel writes about beer and travel for the Chicago Tribune; he has also contributed to This American Life and to the New York Times and other publications. He has become one of the nation's most recognizable beer journalists, winning multiple awards from the North American Guild of Beer Writers. He lives in Chicago with his wife and children.