This is my last post about the Craft Brewers Conference. I swear.
One strategy of my CBC quest to divine the future of the craft beer was to simply ask anyone who would talk to me, “What is the future of craft beer?” With tape recorder in hand I approached brewers, beer writers, and vendors in the exhibit hall with that simple and intentionally broad question. My hope in posing such a vague query was that people would answer in whatever way they saw fit, that they would reveal what was important to them at this particular moment in the development of the industry.
I heard a range of responses from sustainability initiatives to building market share. Here is a synopsis of some of those thoughts.
Potential for Future Growth
Steve Kuftinec, Uinta Brewing Company: What is the future of craft beer? I think the short answer is that it’s healthy. I equate it a couple of ways. The first…I guess you could call it the craft beer theory. I always call it the Haagen Dazs theory. What I mean by that is people saying, “Times are tough. Things are crappy. I just lost my job. I’m not able to afford the new car or house that I want. But at least I can drink the best beer in North America. It’s an affordable luxury.” And then my other side of the theory…this is my McDonald’s theory, once you go out and have a great steak it’s really hard for you to go back and eat at McDonald’s. People aren’t going to drink Bud Light and then try a really great craft beer and say, “well that was great, but now I’m going to go drink a Bud Light.” It doesn’t happen that way, at least in my experience. They may shift around from my beers to Dogfish Head or Allagash or some other great North American brewers, but they are going to continue to experiment and try great American craft beers. I think that we’re in a great place.
Dann Paquette, Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project: I think there are going to be a lot more breweries before we’re done. If you look at the prices of new equipment, there’s going to be a lot of people not buying used equipment. The price of used equipment is going to go down and it’s going to become cheaper and cheaper to start a brewery. 2000 or 3000 breweries in the US? It probably could happen in ten years. But I don’t think we’ll see another collapse like the 90s. I think the thing about the 90s was a lot of people came in from outside the industry and just wanted to make money. There were a lot of people that came in from the banking world and money making worlds rather than people who are brewers and they had a lot of bad ideas. Really bad ideas. They didn’t know. They just assumed people would buy their beer because it was local and that sort of thing doesn’t work.
Erik Myers, Top Fermented Blog: What’s the future of craft beer? Yes.
Beer Styles and Market Share
A seminar on drinkability given by Michael J. Lewis, erstwhile head of the U.C. Davis Brewing School, created a lot of controversy at the conference and figured highly in the responses to my question about the future of the industry. While I missed his presentation, my understanding is that he promoted a move away from big and extreme beers toward ideas of balance and moderation in order to lure converts to the cause. One beer writer summed up his argument thusly, “He basically said that if you want to reach 10% market share quickly, make craft lagers.” Here is some of the chatter that his presentation engendered.
Dann Paquette: The whole crossover beer drinker, we don’t even think about them anymore. Who cares if someone comes over for one night drinking beer. They’re not really much of a customer. We know that we need to market to people who already drink good beer. And that number is growing every day. Let’s go towards beer people. I think more and more people are realizing that you don’t have to market. You don’t have to bring people in. They’re coming in anyway. Every brewery that opens drags more people in. Just talk to the people already in the room.
Jay Brooks, Brookston Beer Bulletin: Essentially he’s talking about a bridge beer; do we need a bridge beer to bring the macro drinkers over. But that’s been tried for twenty-five or thirty years, and I don’t know that it’s actually worked. It may have brought a few people over, but I think as a general idea, making a bridge beer because you think it’s going to appeal to a certain consumer who hasn’t had you’re beer before, I think it’s the wrong way to approach it. You’re making a beer for the consumer. You should be making a beer that you like. If you’re going to be successful you have to make stuff you like. You can’t make it for the other person. While I understand what he means, I ultimately don’t think that that is going to work. It might make it work faster if everybody did it that way, but we’d lose our soul in doing it. We’d lose what makes us unique.
Steve Kuftinec: We at Uinta Brewing Company are extremely excited to be where we are. We are one of the three US breweries that are 100% wind powered. All of our energy use is replaced through the Blue Sky Program. We encourage all of our local fans to do this as well. And water use; I think the last time I read, for every barrel of beer it takes six barrels of water. We’ve got ours down to about three. We recapture our waste water. We’re looking at an initiative with the city right now where we can actually irrigate and use our waste water instead of just dumping it into the drain. There’s nothing wrong with it. We can use it to water our lawns around the brewery. The state of Utah does not have brown glass recycling. So we took it upon ourselves and came up with our own. We found out that there’s a manufacturing use for our amber glass. If you go into industrial strength floors and you see the sparkly stuff on the floor, that’s amber glass. We collect it. We’ll take anybody’s amber glass, not just our bottles. We then pass that onto the industrial floor manufacturers. They use it so it never goes to the landfill. All we can do is take care of ourselves and hope that we can lead by example. We are constantly looking at new initiatives.