This morning, the news that Anheuser-Busch InBev bought Goose Island for $38.8 million sent a shock wave through Chicago. The deal would see control of the company go to the beer behemoth and keep founder John Hall on as CEO. The two Goose Island brewpubs were not part of the deal and will continue to operate independently and head brewer Jared Rouben will keep working with local chefs as part of its collaboration series.
Longtime brewmaster, Greg Hall, will continue to work with the company through the end of April, but will then step down to pursue other interests. Brett Porter, who has been Goose Island's head brewer, will move into the brewmaster position following many years working with top breweries, including most recently Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Ore. We caught up with Greg Hall late this afternoon to get the skinny on what's going on.
How long was the deal in process?
Deals like this never happen overnight, but I can't comment on how long. We first announced we were looking for equity partners in October of last year and it started between then and now.
How will this affect Chicago?
I think in a lot of ways. The natural thing for everybody at Goose Island to say up front is, "Don't worry, nothing will change," but then to think about it things change every year. They change every month. There will be change, but there was going to be change anyway. I think the exciting thing is that this will allow Goose Island to grow in Chicago and grow substantially in Chicago. Beyond that, it's good because we have jobs in Chicago and we'll be able to sponsor more stuff. On the beer side, [A-B is] doing this because of the beers we're doing and the innovation. They like that we make so many different beers and have so many new beers coming out all the time. That's what makes Goose Island appealing to St. Louis. You'll see more beer and new beers.
Goose will get an immediate infusion of $1.3 million. What does that do?
That adds capapcity primarily for Matilda. There will be more fermenters. That is a first step. We're going to need a lot more [money] over time.
When will that get moving?
I don't have the exact [timeline], but pretty damn quick. We just have to have the tanks ordered.
So if John is staying on as CEO, why sell the company outright and not keep a stake and form a partnership?
That's they way they do things. In the past they've done that, with Widmer and Red Hook, for instance, but that was A-B and not A-B InBev. For them to realize the upside of their investment, particulary if we build a new brewery in Chicago, they want the upside.
Why are you leaving the company?
It comes to a lot of things, but first is just the same inspiration for my father in the first place. In 1988, when he founded Goose Island, he came out of 20-odd years in the paper business. He started in his early 20s, and when he was in his mid-40s, that company was bought by a bigger company and he could stay and make more money, but he decided to go off on his own and take a big risk. And look how that turned out. He was 45 and I'm 45 now. I look at what we have accomplished at Goose Island and it's been a lot and a lot I'm proud of. I feel like ... it's like when you go to college and you graduate, you're not mad at your college. You're done and ready to move on. It's a perfect opportunity for me. I had some equity. I have the time and energy to put that into something else.
What are you going to do?
My passions are food and pairing drinks with food and, on top of that, I've always been a big supporter of Green City Market and farms and farmers and if I can work more closely wth those people [that would excite me].
Sounds like you might be opening a restaurant.
I've gotten calls from a lot of people. I'm not opening a restaurant, but it'll be something with food and drink ... but not beer.
Why was Brett Porter selected to take over as brewmaster?
Brett's been with us for about a year and before that he had quite a distinguished career. Both of those breweries went through major expansions when he was head brewer so he has that experience. He's a great brewer, but he's done this expansion thing, which is a key to what his skill set is. He's a good leader in the brewery. As far as being a good scientist, he's head and shoulders above me.
Will Goose Island now see national distribution?
I don't know if we'll ever be a nationally distributed brand, but I think we'll have probably a wider footprint with some of the beers pretty soon, but not all of them. Part of it is a capacity thing.
Well, you mentioned possibly building a new brewery here. Is that in the works?
No, that's a big project. Depending on real estate, we're talking $30 million to $50 million, so we'd have to find the right space and get a team together. A long time ago, back in 1995, I was the general contractor myself when we built [the] Fulton [Market facility]. We were small and didn't have a lot of money and it was easier to do it ourselves and a lot cheaper. The next one is a much bigger project.
Is there concern that the quality of beer will suffer with greater production?
Not at all. First of all, we have Brett on board. And, even the stuff we're brewing in New Hampshire, it all gets sent back to us to test and taste. They didn't get it right the first time and we didn't expect them to. But I have absolute faith in the brewing team that it's going to just continue to get better.
So what are some new beers we can look out for?
Big John is coming in April. It's an imperial stout with cocoa nibs. It's very tasty. We have a couple more beers in the hopper for this year. We have another Bourbon County Stout variation: Bramble Rye. It's made with blackberies and aged in rye barrels; I think they're from Heaven Hill. And we have a barrel-aged barley wine calling King Henry. My daughter Sofie got her beer when she turned 10 and my son Henry gets his beer when he turns 10 in May. We'll have the beer toward the end of the year, so it'll be more of a Christmas present for him.
So are you happy with how everything is turning out?
Yeah, I'm a shareholder and certainly as a shareholder this is a good thing for me. It's a great thing for everybody that works at Goose Island now because as we grow we'll add responsibility.
And how long before your dad, John, decides to call it a day and get a sail boat?
Here's the deal—he's a guy who doesn't have any hobbies. He still drives to work. He doesn't golf or sail. He likes to eat out once in a while. He hasn't skied in 20 years. He just loves going to work everyday.