I'm not a fan of Anheuser-Busch. I'm not a fan of their beers, their marketing, or their insatiable desire to stomp out the little guy to get a bigger piece of the beer pie. I've watched Beer Wars on more than one occasion, and always make an effort to support my local craft breweries. I cursed big beer on the day they purchased Goose Island, stealing it from us craft beer lovers.
So, what was my reaction when I woke up Wednesday morning and read that one of my favorite NY State craft breweries had been sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev? I was sad, of course, that this was one more brewery that I could no longer truly refer to as "craft." But as far as the quality and distribution of the beer was concerned, I was optimistic.
See, times change and people change. When Anheuser-Busch bought Goose Island, there wasn't a lot of precedent. We had yet to see how a craft brewery would operate under new ownership. The fact that the head brewer announced his departer from the company on the day of the sale didn't help. Now, we can look at Goose Island to learn about what might be expected for Blue Point moving forward.
Last week, I took a look at Goose Island's Bourbon County Stout, finding that its ratings have remained stable since the takeover. In my research, I found a number of articles reflecting on the time since the takeover, emphasizing that much of the staff remained the same and that the sale actually gave them more time to focus on their specialty beers. One brewer noted that previously, when Goose Island had to focus on producing their higher-volume beers such as their 312 Urban Wheat Ale, production of BCS might suffer. Now, an increased amount of their year-round beers are being brewed outside of Chicago (see graphic below from chicagobusiness.com). While it may be reasonable to worry about beer quality when its production is moved offsite, it's still the same recipe, and many of the same employees are overseeing the brewing process. Former head brewer Greg Hall highlighted how many initial doubts surrounding the sale were irrational. "It's not like they're trying to make India Pale Ale and Bud Light comes out."
What does this all mean for Blue Point? For one, distribution should improve. While it is available in a number of states, it has been limited to the East Coast. Blue Point was struggling to meet its distribution demands, and Anheuser-Busch will certainly help them solve that problem. However, this means that a large portion of Blue Point's year-round beers will be moved offsite, especially Toasted Lager, which accounted for half of the brewery's production in 2013.
Personally, I think that Blue Point's Toasted Lager is one of the more underrated beers in the NY area. It's flavorful but subtle, and while it's it has a light hoppiness lacking in macro lagers, the light sweetness of the toasted malts balances it out quite nicely, making it both enjoyable for craft beer fanatics and approachable to the average beer drinkiner. The popularity of Toasted Lager along with its broad range of appeal is likely one of the reasons Blue Point was on Anheuser-Busch's radar.
Any change within a brewery, particularly large increases in production, brings a risk of reduction in quality or consistency. To find out what we might expect for Blue Point, I looked at Goose Island's three flagship beers - 312, Honkers, and IPA - and how their ratings have changed over the past year. Unfortunately, our database doesn't go back very far, and the 312 and IPA already had significant production outside of Chicago in 2012. However, Honkers Ale was still largely produced in Chicago (76%) in 2012, and outside production increased in the spring of 2013. While Honkers averaged a 3.34 rating in the first two months of the year, come June its average had barely changed, actually going up slightly to 3.40.
So fear not, craft beer enthusiasts. While you may have a moral objection to Big Beer and their aggressive tactics, the Blue Point brews you have grown to love should be just as tasty as ever. And, if you haven't had a chance to try any of Blue Point's beers, then you probably will in the upcoming months or years. And there's a good chance it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Big Beer.
Thanks to David-Reich Hale on Flickr for the header image.