One thing that happens when I talk to distributor or brewery reps when they come by Craft to either sell me beer or drink beer as patrons, is the future of the American craft beer industry. I will stipulate that I can barely tell you what my future is over the next 10 months. So any ideas I have about American craft beer over the next 10 years should be taken with a grain of salt. I do hope, however, you find this stimulating.
I would like to give a hat tip to The Brew Enthusiast for posting a similar piece a couple of days ago. His piece got me thinking as I hope mine does for you. Additionally, part of my motivation was to try and find different things that he did not mention in his piece.
Beer will be really big or really small
The primary thing I see happening over the next 10 years is craft brewers will either by really big or really small. By that I mean, the older established brewers, particularly those that survived the first craft beer boom in the 1990s, will be national breweries. Think Sierra Nevada or Oskar Blues or a conglomerate like Craft Beer Alliance. These breweries have large national followings as well as breweries across the country that give them the feel of local breweries. On the other side, if you look at the Brewer’s Association statistics the explosive growth in the number of craft brewers is fed by the growth of nanobrewing and smaller local breweries serving their surrounding cities and counties. The group of breweries in the middle, the regional sized brewers who just want to distribute to one or two states are the ones that will be in a dangerous position of trying to be both things: small and large at the same time.
Uniformity in law
The alcohol laws in this country are a messy hodgepodge created out of prohibition, regional mores, and tax burdens. As the craft beverage industry has grown in economic clout, many of the laws in each state have come under needed attack to make them fairer for producers and easier to navigate for consumers. Just in the last year you can see the push to make these laws more uniform across the country. Cities and counties across the country are strapped for tax revenue and the beer business is a way to stimulate growth in failing industrial areas and create tourism. Changing local and statewide alcohol laws are a way to stimulate the craft beer industry. One of the things I will say is that even as craft beverage manufacturers get more flexibility with laws distributors and wholesalers will not lose any of their economic clout or political power. The primary reason for that is many of the most powerful state politicians around the country are also some of the biggest alcohol distributors in their states. Those with power do not let go easily.
Beer and the environment
Brewers will be forced to take a bigger role in environmental sustainability. Many already do. The reason for this is quite simple: At its core brewing is an agricultural business that uses lots of water. Creating brewing processes that use less water or recycle water is something that must be done. Figuring out ways to repurpose, reuse, or recycle the other ingredients used also must be done. As I said, many brewers are already doing that. Many brewers are also using the farm-to-table model of using only local ingredients and other brewers are using the farmhouse brewery model to cut out any of the middlemen. I love both of those movements and think they will both become more and more important to the craft beer world as the industry progresses.
Beer culture is more than just a fad
This is a culture with a deep vein in all of human history. The depth of beer culture is more akin to comic books. Both have a deep and strong core of geeks who, while the minority of the people who enjoy it, will never leave and never let the culture go away. Also, beer culture is growing because the depth and breadth of the ancillary businesses sprouting up around craft beer is amazing. Not just bars and magazines and those types of things, but businesses that come along and try to enhance (or take advantage of) the experience of craft beer. This is the reason I don’t think this is a fad that will disappear.
These are just a few ideas and thoughts. They aren’t quite complete and I reserve the right to change them over the next ten years.