‘Nobody’ Cares About Independence in Beer

OK clickbait LOL headline is a J/K

Sort of.

Over on Good Beer Hunting today I’ve got a think piece that works to deconstruct the word choice beer enthusiasts have been obsessing over in recent months. “Craft” … “independent” … “good” … what does it mean? Who (actually) cares?

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American Beer Prospecting: Is This Love Affair Set for Despair?

stages_bubble years

I’m not exactly saying one thing or another, but today’s announcement that the Alcohol Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau saw a record-high 3,699 active ‘permitted breweries’ in 2013 made me think of the above chart.

What you see is the number of permitted breweries (orange) from 1933 to 2013 overlaid on the stages of an economic bubble. Some context via Talking Head:

“We have tracked the industry since our preceding trade association was first founded in 1862, and there’s a story in these numbers. Beer is constantly evolving in the U.S., with more small brewers than ever before, more brands being introduced by national brewers and growing interest in imports,” said Chris Thorne, vice president of communications at the Beer Institute.

I’ve written about the prospect of the beer bubble before and what stood out most was the localized nature of the potential bubble. California, for example, had 508 permitted breweries in 2013, an increase of 145 from 2012. However, California is a big state with lots of interest in beer, so perhaps it can handle that increased demand.

However, looking at the prospect of a beer bubble also prompted me to create this chart in relation to the interest and potential ease of investment in craft beer:

beer_cost_ambition

… and I asked this question:

At a time when ambition to join the craft beer movement is rising thanks to incredible levels of interest, costs to get in the game may be going down. Does that just inflate the bubble even more?

Will today’s news provide a more definitive answer?

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

This is the Real ‘Winification’ of Beer

wine_bottle_beer_glass_hop

It seems whenever you turn around these days, there’s some media outlet hyping the mainstream impact of craft beer…

Among the phrases to consistently draw ire from beer nerds such as myself is the “winification of beer,” more commonly seen as a headline posing the question: “Is beer the new wine?”

No, beer is not wine, nor is it the “new” wine. Most often, these pieces will focus on aesthetic aspects of craft beer purchasing, like the size of a bottle (22-ounce bombers becoming more prominent) or pricing (those large bottles can be compared to the price of a bottle of wine).

These are simply easily-spotted visual cues that could allow consumers to compare and contrast between wine and beer. No, the real “winification of beer” isn’t on the outside of a bottle, it’s on the inside.
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Long Live the King? Hops, IPAs and Beer Business

hop cone with crown

I am no stranger to harping on the potential calamity of the craft beer bubble. Whether we’re reaching maturation for the market or over-saturation, there’s no denying something big is happening when we’ve got about 2,400 breweries in the U.S. with another 1,250 in the works.

So what’s recently happened here in North Carolina piqued my interest.

Recently, a local brewery, Roth Brewing (no relation), was sold, changed its name and promised a reinvention of its purpose. Gizmo Brew Works was born. To me, at least, it came as something of a surprise.

Roth Brewing – of FoeHammer barleywine and Forgotten Hollow cinnamon porter fame – was started and run by homebrewers. Their passion led them to going pro, but perhaps they just weren’t cut out for the business side of things. Presumably, the new owners are a little more focused on business, but does that translate to a passionate connection to brewing?

I ask this after reading this (first) quote from Gizmo’s CEO in a recent article in the Raleigh News and Observer:

“They were not fans of IPAs,” [Bryan] Williams, 31, said in a recent interview. “We were the IPA fans.”

… and there’s the rub. At a time when the craft beer business is booming, a brewery that exclusively makes malt-forward beers may not have a place (Roth Brewing) but one that embraces the hop-head craze does (Gizmo).

Do those green hops simply mean green cash, too?
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When the ‘Crowd Rules,’ Beer Wins

mystery brewing-cnbc-crowd rules-hillsborough

A funny thing happened on the way to the modern American Dream. It got knocked around.

But this post isn’t about politics or economics. This post is about how maybe that dream hasn’t quite been knocked down … or out. It’s alive – sometimes you just have to look for it.

Especially in the world of beer. For as much as I harp on the idea of a “craft beer bubble” here’s an important fact: the reason the number of breweries around the country has skyrocketed in recent years is because of the American Dream. It’s because men and women who are passionate about beer decided to pursue their love and hope for the best.

It’s because sometimes a shot in the dark leads to the light at the end of your tunnel.

I was reminded of that this week when Mystery Brewing, just down the road in Hillsborough, North Carolina, won an episode of “Crowd Rules,” a entrepreneurial-based game show on CNBC. Aside from winning $50,000 to put toward his business, Mystery’s owner, Erik Lars Myers, showed yet again that passion can lead to success with some help from others.

Yet again? Well, let me explain…
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What Makes Beer “Local?”

buy fresh-local-farmers market-local beer-beer(1)

Because of immense growth in the number of breweries across the country, the idea of “world domination” may not necessarily be a reality any more. Domination, like many start-ups’ distribution network, can be accomplished in a city, town, state or region.

Is it realistic for any new brewery to become the next Sierra Nevada or New Belgium these days? More importantly – does that matter?

Not necessarily.

One of the great things about our craft beer boom is that as breweries start small, many are staying “small.” Or, at least, staying committed to their hometown audience.

That’s good because in recent years, consumer behavior has shifted toward the “buy local” movement, especially those that emphasize the ideals and practices of “local” or “community” within their business. Essentially, if a business is good to its local, loyal customers, they’ll be loyal right back.

“From a business standpoint, local consumers are a huge component of a brewery’s fan base, and in many cases their bottom line,” said David Ackley, founder of the Local Beer Blog. “A brewery taproom offers a significant profit margin that can be especially useful, if not critical, to smaller breweries just getting off the ground. The local fans are also usually the first to spread the word about a new beer release or a special event, either over social media or by word of mouth.”

Local, dedicated business is important – no doubt – so what is it exactly that makes people think “local” when it comes to their beer? Continue reading

Everyone in the Pool! The Rush for a Craft Beer Business

pool-swimming-summertime

Thanks to a few recent posts on the Great Recession and the possibility of the “craft beer bubble” I’ve been thinking a lot about beer industry lately. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I caught this tweet from ABC/ESPN business reporter Darren Rovell recently:

I believe that Rovell’s tweet is mostly tongue-in-cheek, but I also think there’s some credence to what he’s saying. Not necessarily of whether the “boom was done” – craft beer sales are strong and brewery numbers are growing – but rather how anyone thinks they can get into the craft beer industry.  To once again paraphrase DigBoston‘s Heather Vandenengel: It used to be about making great beer to make money, now it’s a matter of whether operating brewers have the money to make great beer.

beer-craft beer-brewery-business

The magic lamp for your own business?

That’s why I’m a little dismayed to see the Brewer’s Association pumping up the release of the second edition(!) of their Guide to Starting Your Own Brewery by Dick Cantwell. Or, you can simply head over to Amazon and find a handful of books that will teach you how to open your own craft beer business.

I am not against people pursuing their passions and I’m certainly not against the idea of more (good) beer. I am against providing people with a spark of an idea that for the low, low price of $95 you can buy a book that will guide your path to going pro.

My feelings are a bit exacerbated by an online certificate program available through Portland State University in the “Business of Craft Brewing,” which promises that “[b]y the end of the program you will have an investor-ready business plan for your own craft beverage business.”

Sigh.

Just like any other beer-loving fool, I want this industry to thrive as much as possible. I just get a little weary when people get into craft beer because … well … they can.

So what happens if our taxi driver starts that brewery? Does he succeed? Does he make lousy beer? If it’s the former – wonderful. If it’s the latter – no matter how small a brewery – it reflects on the industry and not just one person or business.

If we live in a climate where everyone wants to make and sell craft beer, is that a good thing?

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

3 Ways the Great Recession Changed Beer

450038_stock-photo-will-work-for-food-cardboard-sign

America’s recession may be over, but check the news and its ripple effects can still be felt…

In recent years, craft beer has soared in both public interest and as a business.

Statistics from the Brewers Association paint a glowingly rosy picture, as craft beer made up 6.5 percent of the sales volume of beer in 2012, highlighted by a 15 percent growth in volume.

Things are good in Suds City. But how did we get here? Yes, the growing movement by beer drinkers to, well, drink better beer has helped. But there are also outlying factors at stake, including the ongoing fallout of the Great Recession.

Much has been made about beer’s “recession proof” sales ability, but that’s not necessarily the case. Instead, what we have is the very curious tale of how the Great Recession helped define what today’s beer landscape looks like and quite possibly it’s future.

Let’s go down the rabbit hole.
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