I am often asked by thoughts on the future growth of craft beer. I have answered this questions pretty much the same over the last year: Growth will come from newer breweries opening in more suburban, exurban, and rural areas with attrition coming in the urban breweries. Growth will come from the bottom of craft beer from 10-barrel or smaller breweries and not the top national/regional breweries.
This All About Beer article points to one of the reasons I believe this is going to happen. People crave freshness. The idea of buying local has saturated all parts of the lives of the people who can afford it. People love the idea of going to a brewery on can release day and getting fresh cans of whatever hazy, dry-hopped IPA they can find. Bigger national and regional breweries who ship beer across the country can’t compete with that sentiment in many markets.
Stone tries to with their Enjoy By series and it is a great thing for Stone. For retailers, especially retailers on the other side of the country, these beers are a pain in the ass. Why? Once the Enjoy By date is past, no one will buy them.
For so long, the Brewers Association and its members preached, “Drink local. Drink local.” We are finally at a point where everyone in the country who can afford it, can drink local. What does that mean if you are Stone, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and you have to ship all away across the country? Best case scenario is a beer is shipped from California and gets to our distributor 7-10 days later. Then, if the rep doesn’t come in that very day and place the order you are looking at another 2-3 days before they deliver it to us. A local brewery can get me a beer 2 days after its packaged. How do you solve that problem if you are a national brewery? You build an East Coast brewery to brew your beer closer to your eastern and southern markets. This helps with the freshness of the beer and with the perception of being local to a lot of craft beer drinkers.
How those breweries navigate the next few years is something I’m eager to watch. Why? On one hand, they are fighting this growing cultural movement that goes beyond beer centering around local and fresh products. So, on a certain level, they are competing against all the small 10-barrel breweries popping up in neighborhoods and small towns around the country. On another level, they are competing with each other to be the “national” craft beer brand. Finally, they are also competing against the behemoth that is AB-InBev and other global beer companies. That is a lot of fronts to be fighting battles on at the same time. Deciding which battle is most dire and in need of being fought at any given moment is going to be the key to their growth and survival.