Goose Island on going global: 'Having a real experience with the brewery is important'

Brewpubs help Goose Island engage with new consumers in international markets

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

Goose Island's Toronto brewpub
Goose Island's Toronto brewpub
Having enjoyed enormous success in its native US, Goose Island is now expanding rapidly in international markets. Establishing a thriving brewpub in each new country has been key to its growth: allowing consumers to engage with the brand and learn more about its beers.

Goose Island opened its first overseas brewpub in Shanghai in January 2017: and now has brewpubs in Sao Paulo, Brazil; London, UK, Monterrey in Mexico; Toronto in Canada; and Seoul in South Korea. This year it is opening brewpubs in Melbourne, Australia; and Shoreditch, London. It also sells its beers in retail in these countries.

Creating a brewpub in each new market gives Goose Island a physical ‘home’ in the country and build a following among local drinkers who are keen to experience and engage with the brand.   

Ken Stout, president, Goose Island International, will be sharing how the brand has expanded internationally at the International Beer Strategies Conference​ in London (May 8–10).

Speed is of the essence

Goose Island

Goose Island was founded as a Chicago brewpub in 1988 by John Hall, who was inspired by the variety of European beers and modeled his brewpub on an English pub. A commercial brewery opened in 1995 and has since doubled in size.

Goose Island was acquired by Anheuser-Busch in 2011 and is now taking its beers internationally, in a sense taking the brand’s journey full circle: from inspiration from European beer styles, to US innovations with hops and ingredients, which are now being taken back to the European (and international) markets. 

In 2011, when Goose Island was acquired by Anheuser-Busch, it was present in 17 US states. This quickly expanded to 50 states.

Over the last three years its efforts on international expansion have dramatically accelerated – opening up six brewpubs in international cities in just over a year and with two more to open in 2018.

Why the rapid expansion? Stout says it is important to be part of the craft movement as it emerges in each country, which means getting into each country with a presence and following as soon as possible.

With craft gathering momentum around the globe, it is not the only US craft brewer to spot opportunities abroad.

“We’re opening these places because we want to be part of the existing and emerging beer scene and culture in those cities and culture,” ​Stout told BeverageDaily.

“We’re not trying to dominate anything, but this thing is moving fast. If we don’t move quickly and establish ourselves as part of the beer culture, others will beat us to it.”

No cookie cutter expansion

Goose Island’s aim is to use its brewpubs to replicate the mood, soul and essence of the Chicago brand in each of its new international markets (the Chicago brewpub is, after all, 'where it all began' in 1988).

Each of its new brewpubs are in cities that are large, vibrant and with a growing interest in craft beer.

The brewpub is crucial in introducing the brand to each new country, explains Stout. It all comes down to the growing interest in the ‘farm to table’ movement – people want to know where what they eat and drink comes from and want to be able to engage with producers and find out more about products.

goose island shanghai
Goose Island - Shanghai

“It’s not enough to package our beer and ship it over to another country,”​ said Stout. “What we learned in the US is having the real, visceral experience with the brewery is important – that’s why we’re opening the brewpubs.

"We have to have a beating heart where people can come and meet the brewers, have an experience, make friends with the brewery and become part of the beer scene.”

Each brewpub brews most beers on premise, rather than importing from the US.

“The brewpubs give us a physical home in the market, where people can seek us out, have that connection with the brewery in a fundamental way.

"Today - more than ever - people are really interested in full flavor food and drinks, whether it’s spirits or wines or cheese or coffee – they like to get to know the producer, or at least know where it’s coming from.

"So it’s an advantage for the company to be forthcoming with that information.”

goose island inset

However, while the Goose Island brand is important, each brewpub does have its own character.

“Each brewpub is not cookie cutter – it has its own personality – we’re not looking to be a chain,”​ said Stout. 

“We have a few things we want to make sure we’re instilling in each property: but after that we learn, listen and be nimble.”

For example, the food menu is very different in each brewpub, and while each pub offers a key range of four or five core beers from the global portfolio, the rest of the beers are made with the complete discretion of the brewmaster on site.

However, these are always Goose Island trained brewmasters, who go and spend time several months in Chicago before working in their respective international markets.

“The days of brand loyalty are over. People who like craft beer don’t just drink from one brewery, they want to try what’s new.

"We have people that might love Goose Island, but we know their fridges are full of other beers and they go to other brewpubs. So the question is: how do we keep them as friends?”

Ken Stout

Stout recognizes that today’s experimental consumers are not going to stick with one brand – and says that’s a good thing. The mission for Goose Island is to ‘make friends for the brewery’ – people who know and like the brand and will keep coming back. 

Passionate staff who care about beer and are interested in beer is of paramount importance, says Stout; as is being part of the local community by fundraising or taking part in community events. In Chicago, for example, Goose Island has helped Friends of the River and the same mentality of community engagement goes for all its new markets.

Being nimble

While big companies are often labeled as being inflexible and bureaucratic compared to smaller more agile start-ups, Stout says that Anheuser-Busch's 'Disruptive Growth Organization' means the company is now capable of moving quickly. 

“We have resources. We can hire the teams and move quickly and get things done,"​ he said. "It’s great to have an ocean steam liner in the family, but you’ve got to be able to stop, change direction, be quick.”

Brewpubs and retail

What’s next? After a few years of rapid expansion Stout says it is the time to concentrate on what it has done so far. “We definitely have to be nimble and we’re still learning. We can’t say everything translates 100% perfectly into each market. We’re still in an experimental phase.”

At the moment Goose Island’s brewpubs are the flagships of its international expansion, but retail will increase in importance as the brand grows in each country, says Stout.

“Right now, the brewpub is a big portion of the business: it's the identity, it’s where the brewery comes to life. People can smell the beer as it’s being produced.

"Ultimately, though, we want Goose Island as a family of beers to be exponentially larger in the market than the brewpub – the brewpub will always be an important part of the business, it puts a stake in the ground, but ultimately you can only sell so much in the brewery. The brewpub is the seed.”

Freshness is a premium with most beer: and Goose Island is able to brew most of its beers for retail in local AB InBev breweries. In Australia, for example, beer is brewed at the Cascade Brewery in Tasmania; while beer for the Chinese market is produced at AB InBev’s brewery in Wuhan. Beer for brewpubs is brewed directly on site.

Celebrating its 20th​ birthday this year, the International Beer Strategies Conference 2018​ brings together key opinion leaders, exclusive market insights and insights into global trends and opportunities in London on May 8-10.

Speakers this year include Julian Momen, CEO, Carlsberg UK; Hector Gorosabel, CEO, Asahi Europe Ltd; Paul Davies, Vice President, Craft & Speciality, Carlsberg; Jeremy Kanter, Head of European Beer Business, Diageo and Ken Stout, president, Goose International.

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