I honestly hadn’t planned on writing anything today. I’ve been going hard at work and here for the last week and wanted to sleep in a little later (all the way to 7 am) and read for my Cicerone study class tonight. However, in the last month or so it became OK for everyone in craft beer openly wonder if we might have too many breweries. Also, if we have too many breweries that affect the quality of the beer people drink and it means at some point breweries are going to start closing.
So, I wake up and peruse my Google Alert feeds for beer news and I come across this article out of the Asheville Citizen-Times. It is a good read about more breweries in Asheville opening and how Asheville may be approaching its own saturation point. Then I get to the section where Green Man Brewing owner Dennis Thies is quoted. First, he hits on how brewery taprooms are taking away from bars, which national numbers prove to be very true. Then, he says something I totally agree with,
“I used to get excited to see new breweries coming in, but I see a lot of amateur stuff now…Guys that open on a shoestring, don’t own their building and they’re making crappy home brew. And the novice consumer doesn’t know the difference between mediocre beer and really great beer.”
I’ve probably written 2000 words in the last week saying this and he nails it in 50.
I think we all agree that many of the newer breweries coming online are pumping out mediocre home brew. That in and of itself is bad, but in a normal business sector, that problem would be taken care of by people not drinking the beer. What worries me and I think worries other people is that as these new breweries are coming on line so are new craft beer drinkers. These new drinkers don’t know any better so they keep buying this bad beer. As long as the taproom is full, the brewer has no incentive to make better beer.
In the long run, I think these mediocre breweries will fail. Quality always rises to the top in the end. However, what I hope doesn’t happen is that in the meantime good breweries fall by the wayside as everyone flocks to the new brewery like moths to a flame even though the beer isn’t good.
I think part of this new willingness to talk about declining quality in craft beer comes from the sense from people in the industry that the bubble burst is coming. Most of the people saying this out loud are ones who remember the cratering of craft beer starting in 1999. They know that downturn was triggered in part by too many bad breweries bad and inconsistent beer.
The part of this that really interests me is how this has led an industry that has since its inception preached the all for one, one for all ethos where everyone supports everyone else (at least in words), that industry veterans are starting to call out breweries publicly for lack of quality.