Beer giant buys a craft brewery

The headquarters of Anheuser-Busch, Inc. -- St. Louis, Mo.

Kai Ryssdal: Anheuser-Busch makes beer. A lot of beer. A lot of fizzy, yellow, not-all-that-flavorful beer. The market for that kind of beverage is shrinking.

So Anheuser, the parent company of Budweiser, is buying Goose Island, a small craft brewer out of Chicago, parent company of the much lesser-known Honker's Ale.

We asked Marketplace's Alisa Roth how Goose Island and its brews might survive the merger.


Alisa Roth: Anheuser-Busch produced more than 100 million barrels of beer last year. Goose Island produced about 127,000.

Tom Pirko: It's funny. We have an elephant mating with a mouse here. You know, you wonder what kind of babies they're going to have.

Tom Pirko runs a beverage industry consulting firm called Bevmark. He says it's not just the size; they're different species.

Pirko: It's difficult to reconcile how you are in that business producing a very large amount of beer with this other sort of boutique-y business and that you have a clash of values. These are almost two different products.

Craft beers like Goose Island make up a tiny portion of beer sales. But it's one that's actually growing. Overall, beer sales dropped by 1 percent last year. But craft beer sales were up 11 percent.

Anheuser-Busch says it's planning to keep Goose Island's recipes and brewing processes, just on a larger scale. It's investing more than $1 million to expand the smaller company's brewery in Chicago.

Benj Steinman is editor of Beer Marketers Insights, which is a trade publication. He says it shouldn't be too hard to maintain the flavor of the beer, but what might be trickier is something more elusive.

Benj Steinman: It's the identity, it's the unique, local identity that they have had. Will they be able to maintain that?

Anheuser-Busch isn't the only one trying to get in on the small beer action: last year, MillerCoors -- the other big brewing company -- created a subsidiary to focus on smaller beers.

I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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