You need to go read this interview Jason Notte did with Neil Witte quality ambassador for the Brewers Association and founder of Craft Quality Solutions. Go read the interview. I’m going to spend another 400 some odd words bloviating about it, but you can get to those after you read it. I can honestly say this one of the more important articles you will read about craft beer this year.
“All this has happened before; all this will happen again.” Ronald D. Moore co-showrunner and head writer of the Battlestar Galactica reboot used to always say that to questions about when and where the show was taking place. What I gathered from his meaning is that the things happening in the world right now are things that have always happened and always will happen. Humanity is defined by how it responds each time. I remember the 1990s craft beer boom, but I didn’t remember this: the number of breweries increased 550% from 1990-1999. 2005-2016 saw an increase of 346%. I also remember the fall. It was precipitated by people starting breweries because they saw dollar signs. They made beer that was good enough as fast as they could and sold as much as they could. We are seeing the same thing happen again.
Why is that? Many people hold Wicked Weed up as the best brewery in North Carolina. Wicked Weed makes good beer, the sour program is great, they’ve done a great job of marketing, and they’ve made a boatload of money in a short period. They were one of the first to make good sours right when sours were taking off in the marketplace. You can’t reproduce what they did, so don’t try. Yet, many see all the money they make and figure it can’t be too hard. They’re wrong.
Wicked Weed has a fully developed field quality program. I know for a fact, in their NC distribution contracts, the distributors must go through and check the bottles on the shelf, check the dates on the kegs, and make sure lines with Wicked Weed beers are being cleaned regularly. The brewery also has its own field quality people doing checks around the state. That is what Witte is trying to get all breweries to understand: Ultimately, their beer is their responsibility.
In the past year, I’ve returned more kegs to distributors and breweries then I did in the previous two. It is in part because my palate is better and I have more experience, but I have received more out of date kegs, in the last few months than I noticed before. It’s not just distributors but also self-distributed breweries.
What the Brewers Association and Neil Witte are saying is, “We’ve seen this before. Making bad beer and not taking care of your beer from purchase of the ingredients all the way through someone buying a pint is what will kill you.” It happened before and it will happen again.