I took a couple of months off from writing The Five Articles every morning because I was burned out on reading and writing about the same stories every day. It is interesting to read what is going on in the beer world, but sometimes it is like Ground Hog Day. The same stories over and over. I thought that was simply a symptom of following it every day. So, I took a break. A break that was longer then I originally anticipated, but a break. Imagine my dismay when I opened up my Google Alerts this morning and saw articles that told me Oklahoma still hasn’t passed an update to its beer laws, Georgia still has the worst beer laws in the country, and North Carolina still hasn’t passed a distribution cap raise.
Anyway, this is the article that I found the most interesting today. If you are a craft beer drinker of a certain age, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale was important to your development. It set the template for the hoppy American style pale ale that would lead us all down the path to the IPA explosion that currently fuels the growth of all craft beer. However, you will be hard-pressed to find Pale Ale in almost any craft beer bar. In a weird way, it was too successful.
The end of Conan The Barbarian closes with this image of Conan sitting on his throne looking out over all the world that he has conquered bored as hell. What is a revolutionary to do when they not only win, but more miraculously survive the revolution? Don’t get it twisted, the problem that Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer, Brooklyn Brewing, and Stone, and a handful of others, have is a problem thousands of brewers around the country would love to have: What to do when you are so successful that your core beers show negative growth?
There are two factors at work here. The first is the weird one of too much success. As I said, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is one of the progenitors of American craft beer style. The second factor is the need of craft beer drinkers (and humans in today’s world) to always seek out the new and different.
In a business driven by innovation in the form of finding the next new “it” style and flavor combination, how does a brewery keep its core relevant after 30 years?
An idea has been floating around in my head that compares the craft beer business to the music business. The more I think about it the more the similarities coalesce in my head (a longer post on this is coming). Craft beer could be even more cutthroat then music however. There are no nostalgia tours for beer. Once the craft beer public thinks your brand is stale and irrelevant, you don’t get to keep touring and getting the people who grew up on you work to overpay for tickets to hear songs they heard 20 years ago.