Good Beer Hunting

Goose Island to Open a Brewpub in Philadelphia's Fishtown Neighborhood

AB InBev continues to expand the reach of its first craft acquisition in Goose Island through a series of brewpubs, taprooms, and hospitality concepts, from a Las Vegas pub, to airport bars, and a major taproom at the United Center in Chicago. This latest move—a Philadelphia brewpub—pushes into new territory for the brand, however, targeting a rapidly developing area of Philly where a concentration of craft-focused bars and breweries already reside. They're essentially signaling their willingness to compete in an exciting arena for beer audiences rather than look for softer ground.  

While AB InBev has acquired and expanded a variety of breweries in the past few years, none has gotten the push like Goose has. They've expanded core beers like 312 and IPA nationally, into airlines sets and large venues where they get major play. And while many industry folks expect the same to eventually be true of their other brands like Elysian and 10 Barrel, the pace at which they're developing is much different. 

But it's the hospitality angle that shows AB InBev tracking with even the most current of market trends as brewers big and small shift their focus from the distribution tier to direct retail. We wrote about this last week as we outlined the future for some breweries that might never involve a wholesale partner at all. Now, no one is saying a brand like Goose will ever self-distribute as a significant proportion of their sales. But what is clear is that brewpubs aren't just for tiny start-ups looking for defensibility in a crowded market—they also work for massive brands who want relevance and sustainability in their model as they try to deepen their ties in far-away lands. Based on the effort and expenditure to produce the Goose 312 Block Party in the U.K. this year, it seems like there could easily be a London brewpub announcement in the next envelope we open. 

As laws change to enable small breweries to grow and achieve profitability sooner, AB InBev and larger craft brewers have every right to work within those laws, too. New Belgium, for example, self-distributes in Fort Collins, their hometown, which produces a significant source of high-margin revenue. And most expansions for brands like Oskar Blues, Sierra Nevada, and Stone all consider the hospitality experience as critical to the success and purpose of new facilities from day one. 

Can a company a large as AB InBev, and as small as Goose Island—almost all of their marketing and activation people are still located in Chicago, even as they spend more and more of their lives on the road—properly manage a series of hospitality experiences across the country? It's not as simple as having a brewpub chain like Rock Bottom or concepts like World Of Beer, which consumers are increasingly ignoring in favor of small local brewpubs and taprooms. With companies like Goose and Lagunitas working nearly in lock-step on a localization strategy, we're about to find out if local really matters, or if relevance runs deeper that proximity.

—Michael Kiser

Goose Island to open brewpub next to Fillmore in Fishtown []