In an interview with The Morning Advertiser (MA) at Craft Beer Rising 2018, Smith outlined Goose Island’s future plans for UK growth, and revealed how its new session IPA, Midway, was performing in the on-trade.
“We'd love to have a brewpub,” Smith said. “We've opened a few around the world, but London is a very challenging city to find the right site at the right price. We'd love to do it, but there's no announcement just yet!”
Goose Island currently operates The Goose Tap House (formerly known as The Vintage Ale House) in Balham, south London. Smith told MA that the decision to rebrand the venue was due to the “very niche” following that vintage and sour ales commanded in the UK marketplace.
“We originally based that [The Vintage Ale House] on an idea we had called 'Brasserie' which would be focused on vintage ales and pairing with food,” he said. “But to be honest sour beer is still a very niche part of the market here, and even though people liked the beers, the volume we were mostly selling there was still our core portfolio.
“We decided to take on some local lines, brought in some more core and seasonal beers, and it is going well. It is busy Wednesday-Saturday, and we have just started a running club from there as well.”
Midway sales update
In June 2017, Goose Island launched a new session IPA, Midway, into the UK market, brewing the beer at Birra Del Borgo in Italy. Smith revealed Midway was now close to overtaking the brewery’s flagship ‘Goose IPA’ in draught sales, putting this success down to demand for accessible IPA styles in the UK marketplace.
"Midway was a huge launch for us. It's actually very close to, if not slightly overtaking IPA in on-trade draught sales,” he said. “It has been very, very popular. It was designed to tap into the first difference that we found between the UK and the US, and that is the growth of the session part of the market, and the popularity of beer between 3.8% and 4.5% ABV.
“A lot of people drink our classic IPA and say they love it but that 5.9% is still a bit high in ABV. Midway has been designed for the session side of the market and has been massively popular because it is very accessible.”
On the subject of what Goose Island could still bring to the UK market at a time when craft beer is readily available, Smith pointed toward the experience of the brewery, and the history of the Goose Island brand.
“The biggest challenge for us is obviously going to be competing on freshness,” he said. “We are importing from the US and that does put us at a disadvantage to the rest of the UK market and to a local brewery that is knocking beers right out the back door.
"For me though, the UK craft market is a bit of a story, and the US craft revolution was the start of that story. I always recommend to people to drink local beers when you go to visit a new place, but it’s about having a choice. With our IPA people know they are going to get a good beer; it's very much a go-to option.
AB InBev influence
Smith continued: “It’s also about the experience we have as a company and a brewery. We have been doing our Sour Sisters programme since 2006, and with our IPA we have more than 25 years of experience brewing that beer.”
Goose Island was one of the first major craft beer acquisitions made by a multi-national drinks giant when it was purchased by AB InBev in 2011. Smith admitted that this may have changed consumer perception of the brewery, but insisted the acquisition had been hugely beneficial to Goose Island as a company.
"There's definitely a change in perception once ABI acquires a brewery,” he said. “But when I find that you actually talk to people about what 'selling out' means they usually say 'oh you've changed the recipe of the beer' which we haven't.
“Our brewing facilities have had more investment to increase quality across the board, and a lot of things have improved on the brewing side. I also wouldn't be here without the acquisition, so it has created opportunities and jobs that are very hard to otherwise come by.”