Prior to the 10th Annual Blue Point Cask Ales Festival on April 5, 2014, Blue Point Brewery held a small press conference to discuss the recent sale to Anheuser-Busch In Bev. We were invited, along with several other members of Long Island media, to speak with owners Mark Burford & Pete Cotter as well as Andy Goeler from Goose Island/ABInBev. As you may know, Goose Island is a craft brewery from Chicago that was purchased by ABInBev in 2011. The setting was very informal, as we sat around the empty tasting room in a big circle, but it was somehow fitting of the laid back vibe Blue Point has been cultivating for all these years. The format took on more of a roundtable Q&A discussion, allowing us to address any questions or concerns about the sale that officially went through on April 1, 2014.
As expected, the conversation mostly focused on what, if anything, is going to change about Blue Point now that they are under new ownership. Mark & Pete reiterated that the only changes that they anticipate will be positive ones for everyone involved with Blue Point as well as the consumers. Employees now have better benefits and job security, which is something that both owners stated was a top priority. Pete went on to add ,”So many employees have insurance that never had it before. They’re making doctors appointments right now.” The capital behind ABInBev will also allow them to make more and better beer. Though this is all very new, a big priority for both Blue Point and ABInBev will be to expand the current facility in Patchogue, NY, likely to other land on the same lot where the brewery and tasting room currently stand. Though they said there are no current plans to distribute nationwide, there are still many accounts up and down the eastern seaboard demanding Blue Point, but the current brewery is not able to keep up. The facilities and distribution network of ABInBev will allow the production and availability of Blue Point to increase, with Toasted Lager and Hoptical Illusion leading the pack.
Andy from ABInBev/Goose Island noted that Blue Point was so appealing to them because of the culture that has become ingrained in their brand. They want to preserve and market that culture, while Mark & Pete saw an opportunity to preserve the culture by approaching ABInBev with the sale. Andy mentioned that another huge selling point was the massive cask program that has become so synonymous with Blue Point. Goose Island and the rest of the ABInBev family currently do not produce many cask beers, so this is a place where they feel they can learn from Blue Point and branch out into a new brewing avenue. Andy was eager to get out and fill his sample glass, as he said “I’ve been in the beer business for 34 years and I haven’t had a ton of exposure to cask beer.”Blue Point is also looking to expand creatively due to the vast resources that ABInBev is able to offer, such as growing all their own barley and even having a strain from 1900 still going. As Mark put it, “If i want to make a beer from 1920 I can have them grow the raw material for me and we can make an authentic beer.”
Everyone involved was aware of the potential negative backlash from the sale, as they saw something similar in Chicago with Goose Island, so Mark & Pete were prepared for it. Of the customers who were let down by the sale, Mark said “In our minds we’re going to win them back with the beer” Andy also understood the hesitance from the consumers and media and suggested that we all meet again in a year to see how Blue Point has changed. He said if all their current employees are fired and the beer is completely different then perhaps the nay sayers were right, but that is not how he sees the future, saying “The real way of proving things is in time”. Though it is extremely fresh and they are still “peeling back the onion”, both sides have a lot of new ideas and hopes for this partnership. We will definitely be revisiting the issue in a year to see if this press conference accurately predicted what’s to come for Blue Point Brewery. Best of luck to Mark & Pete and congratulations on another very successful Cask Festival.