Well this one certainly came out of left field. I’m not quite sure what to think about it. I really like Kurt and Rob Widmer. I like them a lot, in fact, both personally and professionally. They pioneered American-style hefeweizen, in fact invented the style. They co-founded the Oregon Brewers Festival to support and promote the craft beer industry as a whole. They brew many great beers — their potato beer is still the best of its type I’ve ever had — in many diverse styles. And they’re both very affable and down to earth people who make the beer community a better place for their having been a part of it. So I originally greeted the news of their arrangement with Anheuser-Busch somewhat suspiciously. But in the end they’ve been able to make it work for them, a trick few have been able to pull off. Which makes Widmer Brothers all the more impressive for having been able to walk that fine line between craft and business so successfully.
So does buying a minority interest in Goose Island Brewing of Chicago make sense? In some ways, yes it does. From a distribution point of view, it seems to make very good sense for both parties. If each begins making the other’s beer for their own markets, that too makes good business sense. So why does it give me pause? I’m not sure, but I think it has something to do with A-B buying a 35% stake in Goose Island and then Widmer buying a presumably much smaller piece, when they themselves are are part-owned by A-B (39.5%). I can’t put my finger on what bothers me about this, perhaps it is just simple paranoia on my part. For now, I’ll try to concentrate on the positive aspects of this and try to silence that voice in the back of my head and wish Kurt, Rob and John and Greg Hall all the best.