If you visit this blog often, especially in the last few weeks, you have seen posts about some changes to the posts and the schedule of posts I am planning for this space. The reasons I want to make these changes are I am trying to make this site more thought-provoking and making myself do slightly different things in order to push my beer knowledge. Also, I’m always looking to keep myself from getting bored by looking at beer and the industry that surrounds it.
As part of that, today is the first Sunday where there won’t be a Five Articles. Instead, it will be a commentary or more in-depth look at the article that piqued my interest the most from the week. In 500 words or so, I want to look at the story and explain why it interests me so much.
There were two articles that I was really interested in and read multiple times this week. One of which I won’t necessarily write about, but I will use the ideas expressed in it in a more conscious and mindful way as I taste beer.
The article I want to write about today is this one from The Coloradoan about New Belgium Brewing’s reported valuation and what it means.
We are in an important moment in the ongoing history of American Craft Beer. The initial wave came and crested from the late-1970s to the mid-1990s. From the wreckage of that initial bubble, the brewers most committed to quality and flavorful beer survived and newer brewers who learned from the mistakes of those before them, emerged.
One of those new and emerging brewers was New Belgium. Since its founding in 1991, New Belgium has become one of the leading lights in the craft beer movement. So much so that the Brewers Association has changed its definition of craft brewer to make sure New Belgium (and other similarly sized breweries) stay in the fold.
So, when the news New Belgium was requesting a valuation of the company’s total worth, many in the craft beer world were taken back.
Initial hot takes were that the company is looking to sell. That may be true, but it isn’t necessarily what is happening.
The thing that interested me most about this article itself was how it framed New Belgium as a company in transition in an industry in transition. Both the company and industry seem to be going through the same growing pains at the same time. New Belgium is in the midst of a leadership transition and two major expansions at the same time the industry is exploding and being raided by big beer.
The other thing that interested me in the coverage of this story was the reaction to the story. Maybe because this is only a valuation. Maybe the craft beer world is getting over its adolescent view of business. However, the reaction was rather muted. Usually, craft beer people don’t think of craft as a business. They think of it as some kind of calling to battle crappy beer. In his new book, The Beer Bible, Jeff Alworth describes it as pirates fighting against the evil big beer. On one hand, that romantic ideal is what makes craft beer so special. On the other hand, it has little to do with the actual business of beer.
We will learn quickly how much the craft beer world has grown up when New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, or Boston Beer sells. Either, social media will melt down or people will have really good discussions about what Craft Beer 3.0 will look like.