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Goose Island's 312 Making Headlines
Posted Saturday, July 30th, 2011 by James Kitchens

312(Chicago, IL) - Goose Island is making headlines for its 312 Urban Wheat Ale. Actually, there are two reasons for the beer making headlines lately. The first is that AB-InBev is moving production of the Chicago classic to New York. For those who don't already know, the area code for the core of Chicago is 312, hence the name. The second reason, is that AB-InBev is apparently making a grab to trademark and possibly produce other beers based on the same idea --- using the city's area code as the name for the beer.

In the first case, the Chicago Tribune reports this --- "Three months after being acquired by Anheuser-Busch, Goose Island Beer Co. said today that its massively popular 312 Urban Wheat Ale will soon be brewed in an AB facility in upstate New York." From what I have read so far, the biggest wrinkle this is causing is pretty obvious. How can a beer born and bred in Chicago now be brewed 700 miles away and still maintain ties to the city? According to the article, 312 Urban Wheat accounts for almost half of Goose Island's sales.

True craft beer drinkers who want to support a locally created beer will probably be the ones raising some resistance. However, most drinkers will either not notice or not care. Thankfully, there are a number of new entries into the Chicago local brewing scene in the last few years. So the alternatives are abundant for those who choose to maintain loyal Chicago brewing ties.

While 312 is likely to maintain its place as a good wheat ale, it probably lost its luster among the true craft beer crowd a while ago. Still, the thought of picking up a "Chicago beer" made in upstate New York just sounds wrong to me personally. Having said that, the Goose Island India Pale Ale and Honker's Ale are apparently brewed in Portsmouth, NH at a Redhook facility.

The article further points out what Goose Island founder Greg Hall has to say. His primary point is that with the shift in brewing, they will have more time at the Fulton Street facility for the their higher-end beers like Matilda and Bourbon County Stout. So maybe that's the silver lining in all this.

The second situation is only somewhat tied to 312 Urban Wheat Ale. It appears that AB-InBev is making a move to expand their "beers named after area codes" corner of the brewing market. According to an article in the online publication Gapers Block, they have filed for trademarks for a numer of area codes for major cities.

A clip from the Gapers Block article:

According to Craft Business Daily and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the company has filed for trademarks for the area codes of 14 cities: 202 (Washington, D.C.), 214 (Dallas), 216 (Cleveland), 303 (Denver), 305 (Miami), 314 (St. Louis), 412 (Pittsburgh), 415 (San Francisco), 602 (Phoenix), 615 (Nashville), 619 (San Diego), 702 (Las Vegas), 704 (Charlotte) and 713 (Houston). Through some further searching on the US Patent & Trademark Office website , I found an additional trademark application for 215 (Philadelphia). Interestingly, neither Goose Island nor Anheuser-Busch have trademarked 312 -- the closest Goose Island gets is "312 Urban Wheat."

The Gapers Block article further points out that AB-InBev has not yet laid out any strategic plans for these trademarks. So we technically don't know if this is simply a sweeping move to cover their keesters, or whether this might be the start of a new phase in their craft beer explorations.

The article also rightfully notes that since we have no specific information yet, we also don't know if these beers would follow the style and marketing of Goose Island's 312. That is....if they even made it to market. So while it's premature to say we are about to see an "area code blitz" in the craft beer world, this also raises questions about the increasing assault of our macro beer overlords on the smaller world of true craft beer.

Link to Chicago Tribune article

Link to Gapers Block article


Tagged: Goose Island, 312 Urban Wheat