Citation Needed – What Does It Mean to Support ‘Independence’ in Beer?

The Brewers Association has created a new “independent” logo for businesses to display on beer packaging. As for its value as a good or bad thing, I’ll leave it to others.

This move is really interesting, as it fits so well within the BA’s mission and pairs perfectly with another recent decision to reserve certain kind of sponsorships for “craft”-defined breweries only at their annual Great American Beer Festival. However, the backlash (and support!) on social media and elsewhere shows there is more to consider than just the questionable visuals of the logo itself.

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Here’s a Fun Way to Increase ‘Craft’ Beer’s Market Share

This morning, Good Beer Hunting published a Sightlines piece I wrote examining the essential forfeiture of the Brewers Association’s goal of 20 percent market share by 2020.

At the end of 2016, BA-defined market share stood at 12.3 percent. Nothing to scoff at, considering how the industry continued to grow last year. But the truth of the matter is the goal of “20 by 20” is based on a self-prescribed definition of what “craft” is and isn’t. So I was intrigued by this question I got after the story went live:

What was once an idea of gaining 20 percent market share – something actually written into the organization’s mission statement in 2014 – has now more or less faded into the stark contrast of a reality where merger and acquisition activity can easily strip millions of barrels away from “craft” defined beer.

But instead of adhering to the artificial placement of the word “craft,” what if we rearranged what is allowed to be included in this equation? Is the goal of 20 percent then attainable?

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Silence and Secrets Have No Place Here

Anonymous sources are not unusual. In many cases, they are vital.

The contacts made by journalists, and the information they provide, are often pivotal for the success of the Fourth Estate. While Deep Throat is among our country’s most famous examples, there are daily reminders in all forms of media of men and women who circumvent risks and obligations to provide insight into the world around us we may not see, or share personal stories that can be too threatening to safety and well being.

But in some rare instances, anonymity is provided as a favor. The stakes aren’t as great and, under deadline or perceived necessity, names are retracted to appease. Maybe a story doesn’t seem as complete. Generally, this practice is frowned upon.

Among the many reasons why someone’s name needs to stay secret, the threshold was apparently crossed recently when an employee at Indiana’s Route 2 Brews didn’t feel comfortable talking on the record about overtly sexist branding created by the business.

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Addressing Diversity in Beer: Seeking Action

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Note: This is a follow up to my Q&A with the Brewers Association’s Julia Herz.

Over the weekend, I listened to the latest Good Beer Hunting podcast with members of Indianapolis’ Central State Brewing. Among the variety of topics covered by host Michael Kiser was a lengthy discussion of the business’ commitment to social issues of equality and diversity. The Central State crew spoke with earnest about their interest in LGBT issues and Indiana’s political climate.

On Tuesday, I saw a brewery with a beer named “Date Grape.”

This contrast is not just the push-pull of today’s beer industry, but American culture as well. It’s easy to find wonderful examples of people, businesses and institutions doing what’s right for the advancement of human beings. Then you turn around and that 180 feels like more than a metaphor when you see downright ignorant acts.

The inappropriate beer name wound up being a sad mistake by Mobcraft, a crowd-sourced brewery that neglected to vet the names of beers submitted by fans, something that will now be corrected. Whoever the person may be who shared it was sadly “inspired” to make an ingredient-based pun out of “date rape.”

Even though the correction is welcomed, the incident still speaks to the larger problem of sexism and inclusion that hovers over the beer industry and beyond. The sheer fact that someone thought they were being smart and clever with such a wildly inappropriate name says a lot.

Then again, we are only 14 years separated from the “Sex for Sam” contest, which either seems like a lifetime ago or eerily relatable when we navel-gaze at the communities around us and what efforts in equality continue take place, in beer or otherwise.

There are real, tangible things happening on a regular basis that subvert what so many in beer try to champion: diversity and inclusion. In turn, we should start requesting real, tangible actions.

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Addressing Diversity in Beer: A Q&A with Julia Herz

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In May, while attending the Craft Brewers Conference, I was able to ask members of the Brewers Association administration about the organization’s efforts to address issues related to diversity and inclusion.

Following their responses, I wrote this piece, pointing out the rapidly shifting conversation about gender and race and why the BA should take the opportunity to be a leader in the effort. It was recognized by the North American Guild of Beer Writers with an honorable mention award for “Best Beer Commentary or Criticism.”

In the months since, Julia Herz, craft beer program director at the Brewers Association, brainstormed and wrote the column, “Embracing Diversity in the Beer Biz,” pointing out what the BA currently knows, what it wants to know and what it’ll do in the coming year and beyond to better support and promote diversity in its many forms.

As a follow up to the coverage on this blog, I recently spoke to Julia Herz about her column and what she hopes it’ll do to advance efforts by the Brewers Association.

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Let’s Talk Doom, Gloom and Craft Beer Bubbles

popping bubble

In an industry with such monumental growth in recent years, it’s no wonder people are asking all sorts of questions these days. Interest for beer is at an all-time high, which means curiosity among enthusiasts is right there to match.

Lately, however, if people aren’t asking “what’s the next IPA?” it’s been something along the lines of “when do you think this bubble will burst?” The fate of beer is a popular armchair quarterback activity, often based on ideas of vanity stats like the number of breweries in the country instead of where things stand culturally and economically.

In 2011, there was fear of a bursting bubble because 2010 offered record growth for craft beer. Then again in 2012. And 2013. Of course in 2014. Definitely in 2015. And the song plays on.

Sometimes I feel this discussion is almost as ubiquitous as putting beer into cans.

At the core of each of those news stories – and most conversations I’ve had on the topic – is that people see the fast growth in overall number of US breweries, try to translate what that number means to them personally and assign a judgment based on their expectations and experiences, assuming things must be heading in a bad direction.

But what if Sam Calagione’s “bloodbath” of fallen craft brewers isn’t coming? That was a prediction made two years ago, after all.

Instead, what we’ve seen over the last five years is an influx of smartly created businesses increasing sales and prices – all the while met by demand.

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What *Should* the Brewers Association Do to Address Gender and Race?

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Note: I encourage you to revisit this discussion, picked up in December.

To many, the beer community is an accepting one. Despite an industry crowded by demographics skewed white and male, it still advocates to bring everyone into the fold, no matter race, ethnicity or gender identity.

But we have a problem.

As individual businesses and members of the community work to police sexist or racist actions, one of the most important organizations to help guide this collective effort has, for the most part, stood quiet. Recent questions posed to leadership of the Brewers Association about how the group looks to tackle issues of gender and race were met with somewhat uninspired responses. But I understand.

The Brewers Association, representing thousands of small and independent brewers across the country, has a lot on their plate, from governmental affairs, advising in times of multinational mergers and more. As Julia Herz pointed out in our conversation, it’s a matter of “pecking order.”

However, given the frequency of discussions around sexism and, to a lesser extent, race, it also seems like a time when leadership would be valuable in these areas. As the industry and people within the community continue to diversify, we can’t be left with today’s status quo. The Brewers Association has the means and position to lead and it should.

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What Is the Brewers Association Doing to Address Gender and Race?

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There are a lot of conversations happening about race and gender all over the country. The beer industry is no different.

It seems that we can’t go a month – let alone a couple weeks – without some dust up on social media, where someone says something stupid or names a beer in poor taste or gives the OK to produce inappropriate bottle or can labels. There are examples from all over, including some in-depth coverage on this blog going back to 2014 and even just recently.

The conversations around these issues are front in center in today’s American political arena. As the U.S. inches forward in this year’s election cycle, voices are shouting from all over the country on all sorts of sides, on all sorts of topics. It can be hard, but conversations about race, ethnicity and gender identity are important.

Which is why, while at this year’s Craft Brewers Conference, I thought it was necessary to try and find out what the Brewers Association is doing to impact these issues in a positive way for their small niche of the world.

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The Revolution Will Not Be Televised Because It Already Happened

At 9 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, like a lemming to the sea, I joined a never-ending river of bodies flowing toward the same destination. Across four joined ballrooms, with thousands of seats set up carefully in rows, we came together to hear the keynote remarks of this year’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC).

Leaders of the Brewers Association (BA) each took turns on stage with various takes on the same theme, appropriate given the location of this year’s conference in Philadelphia, a cradle of American independence:

At times, the conversation even went a step further, enlisting very specific word choice to describe where craft beer is headed.

Herein lies the problem. There is truth in BA’s war cries calling out multinational companies like AB InBev and the clear advantages it holds over American brewers who don’t have similar resources. But when,

  • you rally upward of 15,000 people for a conference to celebrate the successes of an industry,
  • and have 850 vendors come to sell their wares and expertise,
  • and see your niche of an industry grow year after year,
  • and you partner with the Smithsonian to create an exhibit to highlight the “impact of small and independent craft brewers who continue to advance the U.S. beer culture and inspire brewers worldwide”

… is it fair to ask if the revolution is over? Isn’t this the new normal, and it’s time to grow from here?

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Numbers and Context Behind Beer’s ‘Next Frontier’

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Beer enthusiasts from coast-to-coast spent a lot of time in 2015 talking about the hottest news topic of last year: mergers and acquisitions.

But when we weren’t talking about who was being bought, it seemed like the geekiest conversations about the future of the beer industry centered around the fight for distribution. Whether it was breweries trying to get the right to deliver their own beer (and deliver more of it) or Big Beer trying to take on larger roles within the space, the way beer arrives to our local stores seemed to be almost as contentious as the fight for who owns and ultimately makes what were drinking.

As Michael Kiser pointed out, “smart craft people need to get into the distro game. It’s the next frontier to be redefined.”

With buyouts and investments becoming more commonplace – and by extent becoming more commonly accepted, if only in understanding – turning our attention to this new space seems inevitable. We started toward the end of last year when AB InBev’s incentive program to encourage distributors to sell AB brands became a public talking point.

Now, as we eye what’s to come for 2016, it’s worth crunching the numbers to see what kind of impact distribution can have on the industry.

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