This week I’ve been concentrating on the future of craft beer after the shakeout it is undergoing is over (here and here). The more I look at craft beer and its future, the more I think comparing the industry to a young college-aged man is apt.
In college, I remember bitching about my favorite bands selling out when they had the temerity to sign a real contract for real money with a real record label. I remember wondering why women would get offended at sophomoric jokes about women and would use silly gay slurs when talking to my friends. I remember being young and trying to figure out how to live a life that combines what I believe with finding a job that will pay me actual money.
Look at craft beer at the moment. We have craft beer drinkers and fans who swear off any beer that takes a dime of “corporate” money while attacking anyone who doesn’t share their vitriol. We have brewers who can’t understand why women and a growing number of men are offended by some of the, at best, insensitive names of beers and their accompanying labels. We are watching craft beer grow up in front of us like a parent watches their college-aged son grow up and it is painful at times.
Today, I have two articles that I think speak to the growth and maturity of craft beer in different ways. The first is about Brewdog. This article that confirms what I have believed about Brewdog from the beginning which is while I believe that have a core set of values that centers on independence, much of what they say and do is simply self-promotional b.s. They seem to care as much if not more about people talking about them then they do the independence they espouse. They are the punk band you grew up liking because they seemed so real. Then, you found out that was all part of the plan to get signed to major label.
The second article is from a panel Jason Notte participated in recently centered on what is currently happening in craft beer and how that will affect the industry’s future. I take away two things from the article. One, near term, we will see a shakeout of the smaller breweries who fail to consistently make quality beer. This is similar to what happened in the late 90s/early 2000s shakeout. The breweries that couldn’t produce enough consistent and consistently good beer closed leaving a core of brewers and breweries who led the charge to today’s explosive growth.
Two, many of those breweries that survived that period have become midsize/regional brewers and they are the most vulnerable in this new world order. With the huge number of breweries, it benefits breweries to either be extremely small and local, part of a loose confederation of mid-sized breweries, or be owned by a huge conglomerate. Trying to go on your own as a midsize/regional brewer like Stone has its pitfalls, at least in the near term. I will be very interested to see how all the Colorado and west coast breweries building breweries on the east coast fare long-term. Remember, Flying Dog tried this before eventually shutting down their brewery operations in Colorado.
This is a wonderful time to write and think about craft beer. It is at a flection point where things can go many ways. This is what I believe will happen. The midsize/regional brewers like Stone, New Belgium, Deschutes will either join together or they will be purchased outright by the huge conglomerates. At the same time, all the small local breweries that serve their city and maybe a few surrounding counties will continue to thrive because they serve the local need for fresh beer and an authentic experience.