I wrote the first part of this post a few months ago, and I’d like to take a minute to follow up with some more thoughts on the current state and future of the beer industry. There has been a steady trickle of articles talking about the end-of-times for craft beer, and the lack of quality craft beers being produced.
My reaction is, are you kidding me? I really have to pipe up here. First, lack of quality…yes, some breweries aren’t making good beer, even beer with serious off-flavors. However, this has always been the case, and is less likely to continue going forward with a more educated public and more resources than ever for craft brewers to up their game.
On the pro side, you’ve got free literature on running a lab and QC program, cheap equipment available to do so, and really no reason not to. At our current space, we do plate tests on any bottled beer, and sensory analysis on our draught beer. However, with our bigger system we’ll be running some basic tests on all of our beer.
On the reverse side, you have tons of good beer being produced. There is so much good beer out there…just fantastic examples of traditional styles available both locally and nationwide almost everywhere. Beyond that, look at the amount of really interesting beer being produced–barrel-aged, sour, spontaneously-fermented beers, and beers that combine culinary arts with brewing. A few years ago, I thought Allagash Curieux was a really wild concept. Now, there are barrel-aged beers of almost every style, often combined with brett or lactic acid bacteria. A few years ago, I thought a cherry stout was something pretty unique. Now, one of our core beers is a cherry cayenne IPA. Brewers are exploring every facet of beer production in order to come up with new and exciting stuff.
For further proof, take a look at the top-rated beers via Beer Advocate in 2008. While these beers are definitely great, it speaks volumes that a lot of these classics would never be considered in the running now. Not because they are bad, but because they aren’t considered interesting enough.
I have a monthly bottle share with some friends, and I’ve tried a decent amount of whales and really great beers. My regular feeling is, “wow, another great IPA or another great stout.” Not in a bad way, but in the way that you might eventually grow tired of great steak and lobster. Now, I look for the really interesting stuff that is hard to pull off. Favorites of the last year include a roasted red pepper gose, a pumpkin sour, and a strawberry sour.
Now, let’s talk about the predictions of peak craft. Do people not realize the moment we are in? American tastes are changing. Light macro lager is on its way out, and that resulting market share will continue to be available for years to come. For most of the last 100 years, light lager has made up 95% of beer sales. Now, it’s dipped to below 80%. I don’t see it regaining any ground, but it will definitely lose more.
What’s the take from all of this? It’s a great time to be a beer drinker, and it’s a great time to be in the beer business. I am very excited to be moving to higher production, and to start sharing some of the interesting and unique beers we’ve developed over the last three years with the surrounding market. What a time to be alive!