Josh Noel

Beer, travel, other things.

Josh Noel is the author of "Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch and How Craft Beer Became Big Business" and writes about travel and beer for the Chicago Tribune.

Who are you, @Goose_Island_PR???

Back before Twitter was a dumpster fire of inanity, rage and foreign adversaries commandeering our federal government, it was a wiser and gentler place. Dialog was shared. Ideas were exchanged. Brewery sales were scorned.

Such was the case on March 28, 2011.

As I write in Chapter 18 of "Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out," Twitter hadn't existed a mere five years before Goose Island's industry-rattling sale to Anheuser-Busch. But by 2011,

it was a playground for the cynical and the savvy. Any vaguely controversial development could be worth a parody account, and so it was for @Goose_Island_PR, which aimed daggers in all directions.

The author of @Goose_Island_PR at first played his hand (or her hand — though I'm guessing the author is a man) amusingly straight, with an initial tweet that asked the reader to take the Twitter account at face value — never mind the silly goose icon.

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Within the next three minutes, @Goose_Island_PR's true agenda was clear, and an amusing agenda it was: poking fun at Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch, the idea of selling out (or, in fact not selling out, because "it doesn't count as a sell out until you hit $40 million") and Big Beer's bland and destructive tendencies.  

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There was an obvious degree of awareness behind the account; the author knew Goose Island's portfolio well enough to riff on it and at least something about Big Beer history, invoking Anheuser-Busch's disastrous acquisition of the Rolling Rock brand five years earlier. Could the same lay ahead for craft beer after a Goose Island sale?

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And on it went. Across 240 tweets and 31 days, @Goose_Island_PR (again, quoting from Chapter 18):

... crafted an apocalyptic vision of Goose Island under Anheuser‐Busch ownership. Pepe Nero, a dark saison pioneered just a year earlier, became diet beer “Pepe Zero.” Bourbon County Stout would henceforth be aged in rain and oil barrels because they were cheaper. An energy‐infused version of Pere Jacques would be called Pere Jacked. 312 Urban Wheat was transformed to 31.2 Urban Wheat, an “exciting 31.2 calorie beer.” And in a mixed metaphor of sorts, Matilda became “MaCHILLda” and “MaCHILLada”—lime and tomato variants of the Goose Island classic made with Brettanomyces. (It was in fact a reference to Miller Chill, a light lager with lime that was discontinued, ironically enough, after losing a market battle with Bud Light Lime.)

The Twitter account slowed to a halt after less than a month, but the point was made. And it was made again and again across the internet during the weeks and months after the sale: Goose Island was a sellout. Anheuser‐Busch was out to destroy craft beer.

For twenty years, craft beer and Big Beer had been mostly parallel lines.

The lines had intersected.

The final sentiment of that passage — "For twenty years, craft beer and Big Beer had been mostly parallel lines; the lines had intersected" — are perhaps the two most essential sentences of the book to that point. It is no coincidence that they are delivered on the coattails of a Twitter parody account.

Of all the immediate takes on what Goose Island's sale to Anheuser-Busch meant — and there were many — nothing quite showed its importance like a searing parody that popped up within 12 hours of the sale's announcement. Imitation is flattery. Parody means a needle has been moved; it is only funny if the thing being parodied matters. The sale of a locally-owned, nationally-revered Chicago craft brewery to the world's largest beer company mattered.

Though dormant since April 27, 2011, the @Goose_Island_PR account remains online. (Take a look.) However, a question remains: who was this jokester?

The clues are probably there in the accounts that @Goose_Island_PR followed, especially the first 25 or so; they seem mostly to be a collection of people the author knew. After that, the follows became the usual crop of beer writers — not me, sadly — and breweries. I sent a direct message to one of those first people followed, hoping for a clue. I never heard back.

It's been more than seven years, and it's time we knew: who are you @Goose_Island_PR? If you know, please email me. A deeper dive into the reaction to the sale — and why it turned craft beer on its head — is laced throughout the second half of "Barrel-Aged Stout and Selling Out: Goose Island, Anheuser-Busch and How Craft Beer Became Big Business," which was released June 1.

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