What Does It Mean When Big Breweries Go ‘Small’?

For years, craft breweries have played off the myth and ethos of being small, whether a single person creating one-barrel batches at a time or a national powerhouse like Sam Adams. This has become more evident in recent weeks with the creation of the Brewers Association “independent” seal, meant to convey the ideals of the trade group in a literal way.

Non-AB InBev of Molson Coors breweries are now “small and independent,” two words tied together, not necessarily “craft.” But what some of these businesses are finding is that “small” in theme doesn’t mean the same in practice.

On Aug. 10, New Belgium bought California’s Magnolia Brewing along with minority investments from Belgium’s Oud Beersel and former Elysian co-owner Dick Cantwell. The move saved the business from closure after a series of financial issues.

This was replicated in a similar fashion just a week later when San Diego’s Green Flash, which already owns Alpine Beer Co. in addition to a production facility in Virginia Beach, announced it was opening another space – in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Up to now, we sold about 40 percent of our beer in our home state, about a third of our beer on the East Coast — and that’s actually increasing faster and might be approaching 40 percent,” Green Flash co-founder Mike Hinkley told Brewbound. “But in all of the big, wide-open spaces of the Midwest, we’ve sold very little beer at all. This will help us to compete in those areas.”

The kicker here is how they’re doing it. Like New Belgium, Green Flash is entering the market through another distressed business in Ploughshare Brewing.

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How Big Craft Breweries Are Keeping Share of Mind – and Pint Glass

Back in December 2015, I wrote about an important pivot “legacy” breweries were being forced to make as the beer market continued to diversify, led by many of the smaller and more agile breweries.

Examples like Dogfish Head, Founders and Highland – an NC brewery with Mid-Atlantic footprint – were all businesses that had been around for a while. Looking at their 2016 production schedules, something seemed clear: they were trying to find more ways to keep attention on their brands. That meant new products, new packaging and a new pattern of beer releases to keep things fresh and interesting for drinkers.

“In any industry, businesses run the risk of falling behind if they don’t innovate and experiment,” I wrote. “Considering the incredible growth in beer over the last few years, this feels doubly so.”

If anything, what we’ve seen since that initial post has only reinforced this necessary action for long-tenured breweries. No surprise, they’re the ones big enough to heavily influence the supermarket numbers mentioned above in Kate’s tweet.

In some ways, 2016 has been very kind to breweries like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, but there’s always another side to the story.

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What We Mean When We Talk About the ‘Death’ of Flagship Beers

tombstone

Not once, but twice last week I read about a presumptive sweeping movement in the beer industry: the death of the flagship brand.

First, it was Chelsie over at Stouts and Stilettos, followed by Derek at Bear Flavored. Two different takes and perspectives on the cultural rejection of the notion that breweries, as a business, might have One Beer to Rule Them All.

Is there truth to this? Maybe a little, but no more than what we could glean from when Andy Crouch wrote about this same topic in 2012 :

So in the end of an era for some pioneer brands, where consumers appear ready to fully embrace their long-developing beer brand promiscuity, the first era of the flagship is over. The ultimate result of the evolving craft beer consumer’s fickle palate is the end of relations with these former beaus, only to be replaced with a new, younger and hipper string of beer relations.

Let’s for a moment assume we’ve spent the last four years witnessing the Death of the Flagship. The most important point we should talk about is addressing the audience for which “flagship” matters.

I am the 1 percent. If you’re reading this post, chances are you’re the 1 percent, too. We are the ultimate minority, the beer enthusiast who thrives on promiscuity and badges on Untappd. We want to learn about new beers from new breweries to fill our portfolio of experiences, often at the risk of ignoring heritage brands or simply buying beer in “bulk,” opting for single servings instead of six-packs.

There is nothing wrong with that. However, there is still 99 percent of the beer drinking public out there for which that behavior is not the norm.

Then again, this topic is wildly complicated. What we need to be asking, then, is what do the numbers show? Are flagships dying? Maybe, but not like you think.

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Happy New Beer: December 2015 Beertography

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OH NO. BEER PUNS.

I’m so sorry.

That time has returned. As we celebrate the final days of December (and 2015!) I’ve got a final collection of beertography to send us off into the New Year.

While seasonally appropriate efforts are found below, you may also have come across some pics on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. If you like these, you can find more beertography on Instagram or in my running archive.

Let’s see how December’s weird weather and the holiday season brought inspiration…

Sierra Nevada Stout – West Coast Celebration of Fall

sierra nevada-stout-west coast stout-beer-craft beer-beertography_WEB

21st Amendment Toaster Pastry – Part of a Balanced Breakfast

21st amendment-toaster pastry-ipa-india pale ale-beer-craft beer-beertography_WEB

New Belgium Salted Caramel Brownie – Have Dessert and Eat It, Too

new belgium-salted caramel-ben and jerry-beer-craft beer-beertography_WEB

Boulevard Snow & Tell – Ugly Sweater Weather

boulevard-snow and tell-scotch ale-winter-christmas-beer-craft beer-beertography_WEB

Wicked Weed Milk & Cookies – What Santa Really Wants

wicked weed-milk and cookies-porter-winter-christmas-beer-craft beer-beertography_WEB

Stone Double Bastard – Naughty Listed

stone-double bastard-closeup-coal-santa-beer-craft beer-beertography_WEB_2

Fingers crossed that 2016 continues to offer inspiration. As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

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

Refreshed and Ready: Post-Vacation July 2015 Beertography

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Summer is here, and I can tell because I’ve been on vacation for almost two weeks, ignoring Real Life Responsibilities, but not completely forgetting about my beery habits.

Even though I’ve been silent in words, my mind has been active, brainstorming new ideas to share with you.

But in the meantime, let’s enjoy our monthly tradition and get around to a roundup of beertography.

Below you’ll find some of my recent photos, which you may also come across on my Instagram page, Twitter account or even Untappd. If you like these, you can find more beertography on Instagram or in my running archive.

Let’s see what July had to offer…

Turk’s Head Lager – Drinking in Paradise

turks head-lager-turks and caicos-caribbean-beer-craft beer-beertography

Harpoon Take 5 – Staying Relaxed

harpoon-take 5-session IPA-IPA-beer-craft beer-beertography

New Belgium Long Table – Pull Up a Chair

new belgium-long table-farmhouse-beer-craft beer-beertography

Troegs Cultivator – From Mother Earth to Bottle and Back Again

troegs-cultivator-bock-helles bock-beer-craft beer-beertography

Allagash Century Ale – 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, on the Floor for 100

allagash-century ale-saison-beer-craft beer-beertography

Here’s hoping August will continue to offer inspiration. As always, you can go back to see previous beertography posts:

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

If You Drink It, They Will Grow: A Changing Landscape for Hops

hop bine

I’ve got a running joke on Twitter, in which I tease news of all things IPA by “shouting” in all caps, calling beer drinkers INSATIABLE ANIMALS for their unrelenting assault on taste buds with lupulin-laced brews.

But there shouldn’t really be any surprise. IPA is the top-selling craft beer style. The top-100 craft brewers are selling an average of three IPA brands each.

From Jan. 1 to May 17, market research company IRI counted 888 IPA brands in U.S. supermarkets, a 20 percent increase in just five months over the 741 from 2014. Here’s a look at the past six years and 2015:

ipa brands in supermarkets

Over that timespan, supermarkets – which typically get increased beer shelf space and new brands at a slower pace then specialty stores like bottle shops – saw an average of 112 new IPA brands a year, or an average increase of 27 percent year-to-year.

That’s a lot of IPA, but most important, that’s a lot of hops for INSATIABLE ANIMALS.

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Beer Money: New Belgium and Boston Beer

combined logo-new belgium-boston beer

An addendum to the Beer Money series to include two craft giants. What am I talking about? Read this post to find out. All charts below are clickable to enlarge.

New Belgium

new belgium logo header

Campaign finance, through Q2 2014: $208,400

  • 2013-2014 cycle: $107,000
  • 2013-14 spending was 51.3 percent of all time amount
    Source

2013-14 Cycle

Individual contributions:

new belgium pols donatiosn 2013-14

Political Action Committee contributions:

New belgium pac donations 2013-14

All Time

Individual contributions:

new belgium pols donations all time

Political Action Committee contributions:

new belgium pac donations all time

2014 Election Cycle (PAC)

  • Total Raised: $8,538
  • Total Spent: $2,600
  • Contributions to federal candidates: $2,600 (all went to Sen. Mark Udall, D-CO)
    Source

Company gave $5,000 to Colorado Democratic Party

Legislation of Interest

Obviously, the Small BREW Act is of significant importance to New Belgium, given it’s opportunity to alter the company’s taxes, but the company and its Political Action Committee have focused much attention elsewhere, an appropriate fit given New Belgium’s mission and goals related to sustainability.

According to public comment records on proposed federal regulations, New Belgium appears 11 times since 2010 on a variety of environmental and agriculture-related issues, from greenhouse gas emissions and the Clean Water Act with the Environmental Protection Agency to the Keystone XL Project with the Department of State. They’ve also shown interest in hop-related legislation with the United Stated Department of Agriculture.

Boston Beer

boston beer logo header

Campaign finance, through Q2 2014: $199,101

  • 2013-2014 cycle: $104,750
  • 2013-14 spending was 52.6 percent of all time amount
    Source

Lobbying:

  • All time: $770,000
  • 2013-2014: $210,000
  • 2013-14 spending was 27.3 percent of all time amount
    Source

2013-14 Cycle

Individual contributions:

boston beer 2013-14 pols donations

Political Action Committee contributions:

boston beer 2013-14 pac donations

All Time

Individual contributions:

boston beer all time pols donations

Political Action Committee contributions:

boston beer all time pac donations

Donations have included:

  • Fed Up With Taxes, Maine Ballot Measure Committee: $19,700 (source)
  • New York State Republican Party: $2,000 (source)
  • Illinois Hotel and Motel PAC: $1,000 (source)

Legislation of Interest

Nothing of note could be found, aside from references to the Small BREW Act and an in-state law to allow for small brewers to switch wholesalers.

You can read more about Jim Koch’s personal lobbying efforts in this story.

Beer Money series:

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

Stretching Your Dollar: Is Elasticity Craft Beer’s Biggest Threat?

Beer_Bottle-stretch

Every story started deserves an ending.

Remember my last post and the inner struggle between a local beer and national one? The difference of a couple bucks was enough. In lieu of a beer brewed within a short driving distance, I bought the new Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, made with Neomexicanus hops. The price certainly helped, but the promised experience of enjoying a beer created with what is essentially “experimental” (read: new) hops pushed me over the edge.

Also, I’m still not buying the $11 bottle of “imperial amber ale” brewed several miles from where I type this.

At the core of my decision was the reason I’ve become so adamant for craft beer in the first place – quality and variety. As Greg Engert recently pointed out, we shouldn’t let the sole idea of “drinking local” cloud that search:

We began by decrying the lack of variety, the lack of quality, and the lack of full-flavored drinking experiences offered by the industrial lager. Now, the desire to drink local brews has reached a fever pitch, often blinding publicans and craft beer drinkers alike from what should ultimately guide our choices: Is the beer of the highest quality? Is it bereft of off-flavors? Is it delicious? In short, is it superlative and memorable?

This is especially important when considering today’s beer consumer is focused on aspects of variety and new experiences. So what does this have to do with how we spend our money, anyway?

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Stretching Your Dollar: Local Brews and the Beer Economy

Beer_Bottle-stretch

I’ve lost track how often I do it – standing alone, head bobbing back and forth from one beer to another.

It seems absurd, but in reality, it’s also a growing “problem.”

Do I want to spend $8 on a 22-ounce bottle of locally-produced pale ale or stout or $6 on a seasonal specialty beer from a national brand?

For me, like many beer enthusiasts, “drinking local” is more than a mantra thrown around. It’s a key part of my passion toward appreciating beer. I like knowing exactly where a beer came from, but also that I’m supporting a small, local business.

But the fact of the matter is a penny saved is a penny earned and this is an expensive hobby.

More important, this kind of cost-benefit analysis is pivotal for the vast majority of shoppers: those unlike me, who don’t overthink the malt and hops in a beer. Often, the choice is simple – find a good beer for a good price. Or, rather, find a good price and plan for the best.

So why is this something to worry about, anyway?

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How (and Where) We Search for Beer – The Complete Series!

search bar header sphere

Thanks to everyone who has been reading the blog over the last few weeks, following along as we researched the rise of the term “craft beer” in online search habits.

It’s been interesting (and even fun), from getting in contact with people to looking over old marketing materials. I’ve always enjoyed the research process – pulling everything together in a coherent manner is another story – so I hope that you’ve enjoyed tracking the growth of “craft beer” with me.

In case you haven’t had the chance to read all the related posts on this topic, I’m compiling them below for easy access:

The first of the “How (and Where) We Search for Beer” series, showing how beer-related search terms grew in popularity in relation to geography. This includes “craft beer,” “IPA,” and “lager.”

When people started looking up “craft beer” at great rates, it came at the expense of searching for “microbrew.” Was there ever any doubt which people preferred?

Showcasing an initial reason why online searches for “craft beer” began in the Northeast – 2009 was a boom year for breweries in the region.

Help from those in the beer business and covering beer as well as review of marketing materials show breweries drove the term “craft beer” into public consciousness.

The rise of social media, craft beer and breweries use of online engagement makes for a perfect storm to spread the term “craft beer.”

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