When Anheuser-Busch acquired Goose Island Brewing, one of Chicago's best-known craft brewers, a couple of years ago, it made waves in the small brewer community. Since craft has been the fastest-growing segment of beer sales for some time now, would the big industrial brewers just buy up the most successful little guys, with who-knows-what effect on the experimental, adventurous micro scene?
"Things are seldom what they seem/Skim milk masquerades as cream." That G&S line from Pinafore popped into my head when I visited Goose Island's brewpub, hard by Wrigley Field, lately. My server showed me a beer list with 24 entries, all Goose Island brews. I noticed a little flag symbol in front of about half of them and asked what it signified. "Oh, those are the ones we make here or at our other brewery, on Clybourne. The ones without flags A-B makes in their Holton brewery and ships here."
The unflagged beers were the Goose Island brands you see in bars all over Chicago and in bottles all over the country: 312, the "urban" wheat beer. Honkers, the pale ale. Green Line, Sofie, etc., if you've seen it in a bottle shop, it's Bud Craft. But the giant acquired the established brands and the rights to distribute anything with the Goose Island name on it. They did not acquire the brewing works or the brewers' ability to keep on makihng new beers--as long as they only sell the new stuff on these premises. The flagged brands do not leave the premises other than in growlers.