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.
And so the dilemma and the question: To buy or not buy Goose Island beers?
What do you think?
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.