But While I’m Here: On the Subject of Brewing, Selling or Not, Brewing History, Etc.

From my perspective, the InBev/Goose Island thing is a lovely coincidence: I just got home from the 2011 Craft Brewers Conference where I gave a short talk about the dangers of mindless expansion and why “mindful” growth is safer, even if that means no growth/expansion at all.

The example I used in my talk (well, one of the examples) was Leinenkugel: I argued that the Leinenkugel family had always focused its “growth” strategy not on their own bottom line, but on how growth (or not) would affect the community where the brewery was located (Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin). The family realized that if the company went under, everyone in town would be hurt by that outcome. So they always thought hard about making any kind of move toward expansion.

And when, in 1988, the family decided to sell the company to Miller Brewing, they did so not because they planned to make out like bandits, but because it was the only way to keep the company going and protect the town. (The deal they signed with Miller clearly guaranteed that Miller would leave the brewery up, running, intact, and in good health. Miller has honored that contract.)

My main point to my audience, which was composed of owners of small companies, was: Think before you leap. Because the history of American brewing is littered with the carcasses of brewers who opted for mindless expansion and failed because of that.

Anyway: on a cheerier note, my talk was brief because the main point of our conference session was to let Jack McAuliffe, pioneering microbrewer, speak. Renee DeLuca, who was also on the panel, and I asked Jack questions, and then we turned things over to the audience, many of whom were eager to tell Jack how they’d first heard about his brewery. One guy had two bottles of New Albion with him! Jack signed the labels.

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Photo courtesy of Cathy McAuliffe-Dickerson

It was a deeply moving experience. Deeply moving. I meant what I said: I can now die happy because I finally got Jack in front of an audience of craft brewers so they could pay homage to him. It was all I could do to maintain my composure at the end, when the audience rose for a standing ovation.

Standing_o

Photo courtesy of Renee DeLuca

On a more personal note: I’ve talked with Jack many times by phone over the years but we’d never met in person. He’s even funnier in person. The  man has an incredibly sharp wit (not surprising given that he’s extraordinarily intelligent). The accident that nearly killed him two years ago has taken a toll: He speaks more slowly than pre-accident, and in a softer voice. He’s also lost the use of his left arm (among his other injuries was a severed nerve in that arm, which means his brain no longer sends or receives signals that enable his muscles to move).

But he’s in great spirits. Turns out he hates big crowds and noise as much as I do, so, like me, he mostly hid out. But when he was out and about, it was a joy to see people approach him. As when he and I signed books after the talk.

Signing_books

Photo courtesy of Renee DeLuca

And it was ALL worth it when he stepped on to the trade floor for the first time: the convention includes a trade show where beer-related vendors show their wares, and when Jack saw all that brewing equipment, his eyes grew three sizes and he couldn’t escape from us dames (myself, Renee, and his sister Cathy) fast enough. (Jack is still an avid homebrewer and is now also distilling.)

So: a life goal achieved. Jack, my friend, here’s to you.

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Renee DeLuca, me, Cathy McAuliffe-Dickerson, Jack McAuliffe (Photo courtesy of Cathy McAuliffe-Dickerson)

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