Most articles you read about the future of craft beer are filled with quotes from Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada, Jim Koch of Boston Beer Company, or Sam Caglione of Dogfish Head. Rightfully so. Those are three titans of craft beer after the great contraction of the 1990s. However, craft beer has and is undergoing a dramatic transformation. Today, there are over 5000 breweries in the US. Most of them extremely small. The insights of those three, while important and newsworthy are going to be different from the insights of the newer breweries. That is why this is such a refreshing article to read.
Grossman, Koch, and Caglione are great at giving opinions on the 10,000-foot view of craft beer world, Andrew Leichthammer of Good Measure and Mark Babson of River Roost have more practical concerns. They worry about things like getting enough ingredients to brew and finding time to do everything that surrounds owning a business so that they can brew.
I’ve noticed the same differences in perspective between North Carolina breweries. When talking to reps from the bigger breweries in the state, their concerns are not always the same as the ones I get from talking to brewers and owners of the smaller breweries in the state. The distribution cap is the prime example. While all brewers in the state (and almost all the craft beer people in the state) want the cap raised, it isn’t a front of mind subject for smaller brewers. They are more concerned with excise taxes and just getting tap handle placements.
Just as a 42-year-old executive with a wife and kid doesn’t have the same concerns for a 22-year-old fresh out of college starting his first job at the same company do not have the same concerns, Dogfish Head does not have the same concerns as Good Measure.
As craft beer matures, it must come to terms with the fact that not every brewery wants the same thing nor are they always pulling in the same direction anymore. Craft brewing is moving from a club of former homebrewers to an actual business sector with different size and economic strata. That is not saying that these strata are in opposition to each other, but it is saying that each stratum has different wants and needs.
Craft beer’s story has always had two parts to it. The first part is the idea of making better beer than the big beer companies. The second part has been the bon homme of craft brewers towards each other. Both are being tested as craft beer matures, but it is the second part that will suffer the most as more breweries come on line. There are over 5000 breweries and the number of available tap handles and placements is at best static. That puts a lot of pressure on breweries and distributors to keep what they already have. That is when the all for one, one for all starts to fly out the window.