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A non-interview with Goose Island brewmaster Brett Porter

Brett Porter at Goose Island

Brett Porter at Goose Island

Brett Porter may have one of the most enviable and difficult jobs in the craft beer world.

Porter came to Chicago’s Goose Island Beer Co. as head brewer in May 2010 and was promoted to brewmaster in 2011. But in what some in Chicago termed “the honk heard round the world,” Anheuser-Busch InBev acquired Goose Island that same year.

And that transaction set up a battle between beer geeks, who declared the small craft brewery dead to them because of its corporate ties, and others, who pledged allegiance to the maker of sour and wood-aged delights like Sophie and Bourbon County Stout, no matter the source.

Atlanta has only been Goose Island territory since late 2012. Recently, after metro area AB InBev distributors brought in all sorts GI goodies for “Migration Week,” including stuff like Bourbon County Rare aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle barrels, I interviewed Porter.

Our phone conversation, which was recorded my me and monitored by a publicist in a three-way conference call, was informative and spirited, and it was obvious that Porter is a really smart, articulate guy. Sadly, though, when I went back to transcribe the file from my handy Zoom recorder, my voice was the only thing there.

Equipment failure? Some kind of AB InBev conspiracy? Who knows?

I do know that Porter is a Portland, Ore., native who worked as head brewer at Deschutes Brewery from 2005-10, before coming to Goose Island; that he enjoyed talking about the newest beer he designed, 312 Urban Pale Ale, brewed with Amarillo hops he hand-selected in the A-B hop fields; and that he was excited about the possibilities of GI’s humongous new barrel-aging facility.

Surprisingly, to me at least, Porter became quite animated when I finally broached the subject he seemed to sense was going to come up: declaring that AB InBev had helped and not hurt Goose Island, giving it access to all sorts of resources, including its pilot brewery, labs and hop farm in Idaho, where GI has its own plot.

For those who don’t know much about Goose Island or it’s historic, beloved place in craft beer history, it was founded by John Hall, who left a career in the packaging industry to open the Goose Island Brewpub on Chicago’s North Side in 1988.

That brewpub still exists and offers over 20 beers daily. There’s also a Wrigleyville Brewpub located a block from the Cub’s Wrigley Field. The Goose Island Fulton Street Brewery, built in 1995, is the main packaging brewery with A-B breweries now handling the brewing and bottling of GI’s best-selling brands, like 312 Urban Wheat and Honker’s Ale.

Of course, the beers that geeks drool over are still being made by Porter and his crew. And they are still some of the best, most complex sour and wood-aged beers made in the U.S., if not the world.

Right now, for instance, the sublime Bourbon County Barleywine, which I recently tasted at an epic bottle share, enjoys a perfect 100 rating on both beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com.

And so the dilemma and the question: To buy or not buy Goose Island beers?

What do you think?

312_pale_full_beerpage

Beer Pick: 312 Urban Pale Ale

Brewed and bottled for Goose Island Beer Co. in Bladwinsville, N.Y., and Fort Collins, Col.

$8.99/six-pack; also available on draft at metro beer bars and restaurants.

Profile: At 5.4 % alcohol by volume and 30 international bitterness units, Goose Island’s new pale ale is close to a session beer, with a balance of biscuity malt, floral, citrusy hop aromas and flavors and a crisp, surprisingly bitter finish. Surely not a winner for craft beer drinkers, but poised as a solid crossover brew. And with AB InBev distribution, it’s sure to be found in plenty of bars and restaurants this spring.

Pair with: I could see putting this easy-drinking pale ale with all kinds of pub grub, Tex-Mex favorites, including guacamole and chips and burritos, or a fistful of roasted salted almonds.

— By Bob Townsend, AJC Drink blog.

5 comments Add your comment

Evan

March 26th, 2014
8:44 am

I still buy it. I hate the big beer companies, but they aren’t going away. If they see they are making good money off high quality products, maybe they will have more respect for craft beer. Also, I’ve finally had bourbon county beers, which were probably years and years from ever making it to Georgia.

Mr Fuggles

March 27th, 2014
9:01 am

I say, drink what you like. I’ve tried to convert some from the mass produced adjunct lagers, but they won’t budge. I see they are happy drinking what they like, so why worry? The same for Goose Island. Drink it if you like it, especially the session style beers. One of the most under appreciated styles in craft brewing.

Crawford Moran

March 29th, 2014
11:34 pm

The big problem is that the AB Imbev lobbyists spend a lot of time and money preventing our local breweries from being able to do simple things like selling a growler…..and preventing Georgia citizens from being allowed to get a growler directly from a local brewery….. The issue is a little more complicated.

Dave Sheets

April 1st, 2014
5:15 pm

I agree Crawford.

It makes it especially difficult when people like Senator Jack Murphy, chair of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, accept huge amounts of their campaign donations from the industries they regulate.

Senator Murphy took the largest part of his 2013 total donations from the lobbyists, associations and directly from wholesalers and AB/InBev. In fact, his largest donations came from them. Only a handful of his campaign donations came from the citizens of Cumming and they account for a very small portion of his total.

The cable association named him cable guy of the year… guess who his other big donations came from. Yep… you guessed it… I wonder if my cable bill is going up or down this year?

He’s the same guy that played funny with the money as director of the failed Integrity Bank in Alpharetta. Even as he was chair of the banking committee… Google search that one… This pattern keeps repeating itself.

Corruption in politics isn’t national… it’s local

Dave Sheets

April 1st, 2014
5:38 pm

And BTW… Goose Island makes some good beers in Chicago. The ones made at the Budweiser plants are fair at best. There is nothing wrong with them for selling out. Offer me enough cash and I’ll toss you the keys and head to the Keys… I absolutely respect their business decision.

FYI… hops aren’t hand picked. The brewer meant that he designed the beer and chose a really cool, if somewhat behind the times, hop to use. Budweiser doesn’t give it’s brewers that kind of freedom and to him, it’s very significant. All AB/InBev beers are designed by committee based on sales projections. (Some are designed backwards by figuring out a demographic, then building a beer to match; sometimes even before the specific brewery it’ll be sold under is chosen.) Marketing plans are made from that and a story is created. Designing beers based on what should sell well is, of course, valid but not cause for any great rejoicing.

Creatively using new ingredients or techniques in experimental ways are what drive craft beer. We create a crazy Mosaic-stuffed Black Cherry Saison that has been wild fermented and aged for 62 days in a bomb shelter surrounded by olives and ham hocks… Then we get other people to try it and, if they don’t puke, we produce more so more people can try it, and hopefully buy it.

THAT is craft beer… 312 is just beer. What you choose to consume will either help a local company or hurt a local company.

I can use a local printer for my business cards or I can choose a convenient internet site with prices so low, you’d have to cut the trees down yourself to offer the same price…

Whatever you decide, do it with eyes wide open… As for me, I’ll support small, independent craft breweries.