I really didn’t want the second article I highlighted this year to be about big beer screwing everyone else, but here we are. Missouri has a new law that allows brewers to lease beer coolers to retailers. Now, they can’t make the retailers stock only their beers in the cooler, but we know how this will work. “Hey, we’re glad we could help with the new cooler. By the way, do you think you might want some of this specialty stuff from Goose Island, Elysian, or Golden Road? We went able to offer it to you last year, but we think you might be able to sell it this year.”
This may be the year where conversation around craft beer is more about it being besieged on all sides. Big beer is going to step up its attempts to turn back the clock to the seventies and eighties when they had a monopoly on the beer business. People will keep talking about how marijuana is eating into craft beers market regardless of any evidence one way or the other. The attempt to reform federal taxes still languishes in legislative committees. And of course, the rate of growth will probably slow which will lead to many hand ringing articles asking what is wrong with craft beer?
That is something I did notice in the tone of the coverage of craft beer at the end of the year. For most of the last two to three years the coverage of craft beer has been fawning puff pieces on how this new craft beer market. These small breweries were heroically taking on Budweiser and Miller and having fun while doing it and they are right next door with these cool places where you can take your dog and/or your toddler. Isn’t it great?
The second half of last year saw the coverage change a little. More writers started taking serious looks at craft beer as a business and real analysis of the business began to appear more regularly in mainstream media outlets. I think the coverage really began to shift when Stone Brewing announced its layoffs. I think that was a moment for the craft beer industry to step back and look at itself in a critical way and the mainstream press has begun to follow suit. By mainstream I mean non-beer centric websites and magazines.
My fear is that as the craft beer story gets more nuanced we will see things like what has happened with the marijuana is hurting craft beer story. Basically, a study that looked at the slowing of baseline sales in the states where marijuana is legal recreationally concluded that marijuana was hurting craft beer sales. That may or may not be true, but many outlets jumped on the bandwagon without doing their own analysis of the study.
That is my worry for media. Many news websites are simply aggregators of other people’s content and simply want clicks. That includes some major news outlets whose websites are little more than wire service reports and videos from their television network.