This is an interesting article about the future of Belgian beer. One line from Jean Hummler, co-owner and manager of Moeder Lambic in Brussels, stands out to me for slightly different reasons than Belgium’s export problem. “[Belgium] didn’t export a lot of quality,” Hummler says. “We exported names.” (Italics mine) We have the same problem in this country in just distributing from one state to another.
Many craft beer drinkers chase beers. They look for names and can’t wait until release day of the next whale. This week happens to be Foothills Sexual Chocolate week. That means people who normally drink Blue Moon and have never set foot in Craft will start calling us to see if we have gotten our allotment for this year. They will come in and buy as much as they can, leave, and never darken our door again. I hate those people. Sexual Chocolate is easily one of the top 2 or 3 beers produced on a yearly basis by North Carolina breweries. However, it is the name people who chase whales are chasing, not the beer.
This is what happened with Hopslam last week. All week people called and came by looking for it. I got bitched at by a guy on the telephone because I wouldn’t stop pouring a beer to go check if we had any more Hopslam on the shelf. There are times when I want to say, “Do you know we have a beer in stock just as good as that one and it’s a $1 cheaper per can?”
If you can’t tell, I’m not a huge fan of the whale culture that has grown up around craft beer. I don’t blame the breweries. Many beers are hard and expensive to produce. You can only produce so much and you can only do it once a year to make it cost effective for the brewery. However, these special/limited release beers have the unfortunate side effect of feeding into the need for external validation many people have in today’s world.
If you have ever been to the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) you have seen the line. That is the line at the booth of a brewery everyone in the beer world is talking about, but that has a limited distribution footprint. The beer has so much buzz and excitement that people clamor for just a 2 oz. taste. They also check in on Untappd and post on Instagram that they have drunk this beer. Everyone must know how cool they are. The GABF is an airplane hangar full of beer you don’t need to wait an hour for anything.
So, when Hummler says that Belgium has only been exporting names, he and the breweries know full well they can coast on that for a while. It is the same in your local market. Breweries with a history and following feast on their name recognition. Eventually, however, what’s in the glass catches up to you, and if it isn’t good you will suffer.