Something has been nagging me. Something is bothering me in the beer business, and I think we need to address it sooner than later. I think we're not measuring the health of the category correctly, and I think it's time we put together a new formula for the modern age of brewing.
Made badly, stored incorrectly, or served with dirty equipment, bad beer is the silent killer of our nation’s otherwise thriving beer scene.
Beer has to be delivered in trucks. These trucks are, for the most part, owned and managed by distributors. Distributors (also called "Wholesalers") are big business in the United States and most of you know nothing about them. This is a problem for you and even more relevantly, for them
I think we've forgotten how to talk to each other. It's 2018 and we've...apparently...lost the innate, human, crucially important ability to share a moment with someone else without a small dose of judgment, scorn, or implied bias. I feel like I'm obligated to take a stance in order to be heard these days, and I'm not so sure I like that.
I'll admit that while its lost a lot of its authenticity through mass marketing and message dilution, "craft" is still a powerful driver of brand positioning, maintaining a certain inimitable resonance through the recent and impressive industry growth and signifying a powerful level of intentionality, purpose, and yes, counter culture resistance to mass market fizzy yellow beer.
Talk to most people who live in D.C. these days, and they’ll describe the collective anxiety that has crept into everyday life here since the election. It doesn’t matter if your candidate had a little “D” or “R” next to their name; it’s the constant partisan tension, the heated rhetoric, and the general animosity toward one’s fellow citizen that seems to have enveloped the country, and been distilled to its purest form in the capital city.
The United States is undoubtedly the leading beer market in the world when it comes creativity and entrepreneurial drive, and it's all because of this thing known as craft beer. But other countries are following the our lead. Australia is one of them.
I’ve been increasingly interested in what drives collaboration brewing and what impact it has on the beer industry, so I packed up my bags and flew out to Denver to experience Collaboration Fest 2016, held on Saturday March 19th in Sports Authority Field At Mile High Stadium (that’s not how to squeeze a lucrative stadium sponsorship into an established venue name by the way), home of the current Super Bowl champs, the Denver Broncos.
I'm endeavoring to return to a more consistent publishing schedule for The Brew Enthusiast, along with a veritable heap of new brewery features, industry highlights, and (I would like to think) pithy, topical, and insightful conversations about the past, present, and future of our favorite beverage.
Truth be told, I was ferociously and unsavorily downing Yuengling Lager (or as we Philadelphians simply call it, Lager) during the first and final quarters of the game where my beloved, and simultaneously loathed, Eagles were in the process of throwing it all away. My wife eyed me cautiously, as she does every Sunday, as if to say “why do you do this to yourself?” She didn’t grow up in a sports-obsessed family. And while she remains a steadfast lover of ales, stouts, lagers, and all manner of great beer, lost on her is the unwavering, perfect union of football and beer.
Of the four basic ingredients that go into making that finely crafted pint that is ostensibly in your hand right now, I might argue that malt is the most underrated. Sure, water gets mightily overlooked, but the coaxed grain that goes into the brewhouse isn’t as sexy as hops, or as mystical as yeast, and most beer drinkers these days pay little mind to its contributions in the brewing process.
Constellation Brands Inc. is a publicly traded company. And yes, above all else, they’re in the business of making money. Their brands have been performing well above industry norms over the past few years, and they're set to fortify their position in the market with anything in their toolkit, including corporate M&A activity. But guess what makes them money -- people drinking their beers. That sounds cold (and it is), but as the craft beer market expands like never before, larger beer makers are looking for any way possible to get some skin in the game.
Perspectives on craft, the evolution of the beer consumer, and an obtuse number of other factors (environmental, regulatory, economic, demographic) will all chip in to stir the the collective pot in such a way that few can accurately predict what will happen. I have compiled a list of factors (and a few predictions) that I think will contribute to major changes. Some of these are obvious, and some may come as a surprise to you.
Beer is important. It's not, in any circumstance, a means to an end. In some of the most important ways, great beer is a journey that folks embark upon for the sake of it, eschewing the idea that there's even a need for a destination. It's experiential. You might drink a beer to catch a buzz, and I feel you on that, but generally you drink a beer because engaging in the drinking fprocess is the most important part, and catching a buzz is just a side-effect.
Money talks. It's the loudest talker in the room actually. The best, and worst, things in the world are done for the sake of money. Craft beer is a business. It operates on cash flow like the rest of us do. The only difference, as I see it, is the intention behind the cash flow, and the reason to be in the business at all. Great breweries make great beer, and sell it for a price, so that they can make more great beer. They don't sell it to make as much money as possible and build huge, soulless efficiencies in their business.
For a huge portion of history, and for most styles of traditionally brewed beer, brettanomyces (or "brett", for short) was an unwanted, nasty, and wild yeast that infected your beer, ruined your wine, and rotted your fruit (brett naturally lives happily on the skins of most fruits). Today, brett is a popular yeast used by breweries all around the world.
I want to explain a concept called Design Thinking, which embodies a comprehensive approach to the creation of new things and new processes. Design, generally speaking, is a critically important part of the product itself. Design turns complexity into pleasure, and helps folks make sense of a complicated, nuanced world. You see great design every day and you take it for granted, which is often times the entire point. It appeals to your sentience and it's just...nice. It's a deliberate practice, and it takes an enormous amount of energy, and the right framework, to execute properly.
Guinness is not a beer company. It doesn't produce a series of ales and lagers , and has never branded itself as such. Guinness (the company), for the last 250 years, has made Guinness (the beer), one of the world's most widely distributed products, sold in over 150 countries across the globe. You may or may not like Guinness, but its complete market saturation and ubiquity is the result of a global population that has grown up with the product on tap and available at a local pub. Guinness doesn't make beer, it makes Guinness.
I think it’s hard—nay, impossible—not to wax romantic about the current state of craft beer. And I’m trying not just saying that as someone involved in the industry. Rather, I’m saying that as a beer lover and explorer who recently visited a handful of creative, pioneering breweries in Asheville, North Carolina. Like me, the folks behind these breweries are walking a thin line between business and passion, and I’m admittedly smitten with the inexorable energy surrounding each of these homegrown adventures.
This is what a story does. A story contextualizes the moment. It adds relevance, reality, and humanity to what would otherwise be a bunch of words. Ad copy doesn't do that. Ad copy communicates perceived value in the fewest possible words. Remember that time you went out to eat with your friends and ate dinner and carried on until the wee hours of the morning? This is the epitome of the human experience. It's unforgettable.
American craft beer has its fair share of inspiring characters, from Charlie "Relax, don't worry, have a homebrew" Papazian, to Sam Calagione with his boundary-smashing Dogfish Head beers. But few figures in the beer world were as definitively influential, or as beloved, as pioneering writer Fred Eckhardt. Fred passed away peacefully at his home in Portland, Oregon on Monday at 89 years old, and will deeply missed by the robust and lively community he worked so hard to build.
Can you feel it? There's a palpable energy buzzing through the beer community right now, and it happens this time every year. The annual North American hop harvest is about to start, which means that millions of pounds of fresh, piney, citrusy, bitter hops will be picked from their delicate vines and sent to breweries around the country (and the world).
So the Greeks helped to bring us a sizable majority of our modern culture, language, entertainment, technology...I could go on all day. That's enough. They just haven't done much for beer, but you can't have it all. They'll catch on eventually, and in the mean time, I'm happy to crush a few more Mythos and enjoy the ocean breeze.
This industry is growing because people are buying the products being produced. They're willing to spend their money on good beer and they're clearly willing to see more breweries open up to meet the demand. This is real money changing hands and real growth happening.
The best part about the craft beer culture in Asheville is that it's never trying too hard. You get the feeling that these breweries belong there, as if they slowly grew from the earth like a tree, and it makes the beer that much tastier.
I hear people talk about Vermont like it's Narnia. I'm fine with that. If they think little gnomes and great magical beasts roam through the trees up north, then I think that's a myth worth propagating.
PBW (Philly Beer Week) 2015 was a treat, as it is every year. With beautiful weather and countless options for outdoor indulgence, one could have wandered the streets of Philadelphia, beer in hand, in a hop and malt-fueled frenzy. Luckily for me, I had a plan.
These are all independently produced craft beer films focusing on the industry, culture, and growth of craft beer in America. Some of these focus on a particular state's growing craft scene, and some focus on the journey of a craft brewery, but they're all broadly aimed at evangelizing the industry.
A few images from this year's fantastic food and beer event hosted in Washington, DC. It was quite a special night, with the industry's best beer, food, and beards on display and ready to rock. We won't analyze any further, but wanted to share a few photos with you. Hopefully we'll see all these great breweries continue to set the high standard we saw this year at the event!