Tuesday, May 8, 2012

And Then There Were.....MORE!

Being in this business for so long, my ear has tuned itself to the various heaves and contractions of our local brewing industry as well as the national scene. What I'm seeing and hearing lately can be summed up in two words:PRODUCTION EXPANSION! Not just the individual breweries, but the industry as a whole. I have been approached for advice and consultation by more start-up brewery projects from all across the country in the last seven months than I have in the last three years! I recently heard one of my brewery compatriots exclaim "It seems like everyone and their brother is starting a brewery!" He is only partially correct. Don't forget their sister, their aunt, their great uncle, their kindergarden teacher, and their third cousin twice removed! 
What is accounting for this seemingly national grassroots resurgence in craft brewing? While it is very true that the craft beer market share has done nothing but grow and grow in recent years while others have shrunk! Years where every other segment of the alcohol-sales world has declined (wine, liquor, and macro-brewed beers), craft beer has increased its volume! No mean feat, to be sure! But has the growth been enough to account for the marked increase in production facilities? Truly, only time will tell. 
However, this is not the first time we have seen this type of a "land rush" in the brewing world. Most recently, I can recall very clearly how, in the early-to-mid-1990's, every bar, every restaurant, every vacant warehouse space seemed to sprout a brewhouse! I knew that expansion wouldn't last long when I went into a frozen yogurt shop in Fort Collins, Colorado and they had a brewhouse behind the freezers full of pistachio/cappuccino delight! Alright, that never really happened. But, had the "craft bubble" continued for a couple of more years, I would not have been surprised to see a pint of "DMV Pale Ale" for sale at the Motor Vehicle Department! 
It seems that this industry might just have a cyclical nature to it ("WHAT?!? SHUDDUP!"). At its core, craft beer and craft brewing are a niche item. Read that as a luxury item. However the big advantage we have over other indulgences is that we offer a very affordable, luxury item. When the national economy is walking through knee-deep muck and loosing its boots in the process, our wonderful craft beer world offers our customers an affordable, enjoyable product created with very high-quality ingredients, produced by highly-schooled individuals. We give the public a chance to enjoy a premium, gourmet experience for a very affordable price. But I am truly digressing!
The pervasiveness of the brewhouse. I am not at all against this. I love the fact that more and more breweries are starting. These businesses are EXTREMELY difficult to get going and KEEP going! Anytime you encounter a commercial brewing operation, please understand that it is a testament to somebody's dream and insane drive!
Are all of these new breweries going to be sustainable in the coming years? No, most likely not. The market for beers brewed domestically (see previous post!) is very contentious and, sometimes, downright cutthroat! As more and more breweries try to get their products on the shelf and behind the bar, the more the macro-breweries (ABInBev, Miller/CoorsSAB, Kokanee, etc.) will fight against any contraction of their share of this golden pie!
So, what is my point? Hmmm......good question....
My point is this: when you come across a small brewery or brewpub, get in there and sample their wares! Some will make you wince, some will make you happy.  As I have previously stated, small breweries are very hard to run. Whoever is doing that is running on pure dream and caffeine! Try their beers. Give them a chance. Shun the macro-beers. Embrace unique beer styles and open your mind and palate! 
If you truly believe the entrepreneur and small-business owner are the catalysts for our economy, you have just met them in your local brewer and brewery owner!

Until next time,
Your Humble Brewer

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