Yea, there was much lamentation yesterday after the news that Goose Island would become a small part of the multinational beer barons at Anheuser-Busch InBev. I’m sympathetic but ambivalent: I’m egalitarian when it comes to beer, which is probably a self-aggrandizing way of saying I’m cheap and insufficiently discerning. Besides, there’s something to be said for the generic American lager, in that designing the perfect median taste (sort of like ketchup) is an interesting and abstractly impressive achievement in itself. And if worst comes to worst, add hot sauce.
But I am a design snob. And I really like Goose Island’s design, perhaps more than their beer. Take their line of Belgian ales:
They’re elegant, strikingly minimalist, rich and subtle, and use high-quality stock: attractive beers with attractive labels. Or take their “urban ales":
They’re clean, strong, and modern; the 312 label is practically iconic in Chicago, and the Green Line design echoes it without copying it, a balanced but not excessive consistency their line of Belgian ales also reflects.
Then there’s Anheuser-Busch. Yes, the Budweiser design is a classic. But their stabs at “craft” beer have been accompanied by tasteful but busy and forgettable designs:
And overbearing monstrosities that make minor league hockey team logos look like masterpieces of restraint:
Sure, it’s snobbery. But craft beer is an aesthetic experience–it’s supposed to be pleasing to the senses. Goose Island is skilled at first impressions, whereas Anheuser-Busch’s stumbling attempts at craft have been mirrored by their half-hearted designs: not only was the company clearly uncomfortable with making craft beer, they were uncomfortable trying to sell it as well. One of the theories for the purchase of Goose Island is that rather than continue to flail, A-B just decided to purchase the ability to do it right. If they’re clever, they’ll take the aesthetic that goes with it.
Update: Speaking of craft beer, Phil Kuhl of Fountainhead (and a Goose Island vet) presents his beer bucket list (h/t Julia Thiel). Unfortunately the only one I’ve tried is Lagunitas’s Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, but it is indeed very good. My current favorite is Left Hand Milk Stout, though the seasons probably have something to do with that.