is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His column
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|If you’re like me you’ve surely read many end of the year laments that craft beer is slumping and last rites will soon
be in order. These dour predictions correctly cite statistics that show alcohol consumption in the United States
dropped for the third-straight year with sales of beer declining just over 3%. Even more alarming is the fact that over
the past five years beer sales volume in the US declined 4.3%. Note however those numbers are for beer in general.
Gee, what a shock, people aren’t buying tasteless watery light adjunct lagers like they did in the past. So what does
that have to do with craft beer?
According to some beer analysts, namely those who often fancy themselves modern day versions of Nostradamus,
craft too is slowly dying since its increase in sales for the year was 1.9% higher and dollar sales were up a 3.1% over
the prior year. Somehow to them an increase is a decrease. It’s the same logic politicians use when someone
proposes a modest budget increase. If the increase is say 5% it’s actually a draconian cut because last year’s
increase was 8%. Time to call in the lobbyists to get that heartless “cut” restored. Georg Orwell where are you?
Many businesses would do several handstands and a couple of cartwheels to have dollar sales grow over 3% but
considering the consistent double digit growth of craft beer for most of the past decade that number really does show
there are serious challenges facing the industry. I see two big ones, mainly because that’s all I can think of before
the deadline to submit my article to the editor. Hey, give me more time and I’ll come up with as many as you like.
First there’s the issue of what gentle, kind hearted economists call “brand consolidation”. I call it, more accurately by
the way, the grab the money and run, I don’t care what happens to craft beer since I'm selling out to the bad big boys
for big bucks consolidation. You know who they are. For my part I try not to think about or drink the likes of
Lagunitas, Goose Island, New Belgium, Wicked Weed, Elysian, Anchor, Founders, and well you get the picture. I do
however admit to thinking about and more importantly drinking Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout and Founder’s
CBS and KBS. Hey, it’s only three. Actually I really only drink them just to prove no one is perfect.
The second challenge comes from manufacturers who take sparkling water, some cheap alcohol usually distilled from
sugar, add some fake fruit flavoring, and stick it in a brightly colored can. That’s all it took to create the new US drink
craze for spiked / hard seltzer. I’m not going to say it but I’m sure going to think that Barnum was right, it’s impossible
to underestimate the taste of some people. The polite rationale for this phenomenon is that younger people are
seeking drinks with fewer calories and less sugar for a healthier lifestyle and seltzer fits the bill. My math may be a bit
shaky but it seems to me that my 12 ounces of a 10% beer is just as healthy as two pints of a 5% seltzer. It reminds
me of those bars that won’t sell you a beer stronger than 8% ABV in a pint glass but will sell you as many 10 ounce
glasses of it as you like. Am I missing something?
Super popular White Claw (sales were up 210% in the last 12 months) and its top competitor Truly (which saved
Boston Brewing) lead the ever growing pack of seltzers. The proof of just how popular and profitable they are is the
fact that Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Goliath of beer, is entering the market with 4 different flavors of Bud Light
Seltzer. Considering that Bud Light itself is flavorless they just could have added the flavorings and stopped there.
I’m not exactly sure what craft breweries can do to meet those challenges and the myriad of others they face as the
craft marketplace matures. That’s business, I’m just a drinker. Ah but since the beer business is demand driven
there are a few things we drinkers can do to influence demand which in turn will insure that craft beer will not only
survive but continue to prosper.
Here are a few suggestions. Feel free to do them or not. Needless to say if you don’t, the responsibility for single
handedly ruining the entire craft beer industry, throwing thousands of people out of work, and depraving millions of
their favorite beer rests entirely on your shoulders, not mine.
1. No one likes to drink alone except if there’s no one else around. A recent study (who pays for any of these
meaningless studies endlessly cited in articles?) found that people appreciate food and drink more when they have
company. It seems that things, especially beer, tastes better when you are with someone. If something tastes better
then you and your companion will seek it out more often. So invite a friend out for a few beers. Go to the local pub to
watch the Yankees win the World Series or a re-run of Gilligan’s Island. It doesn’t matter as long as you’re with
someone. Talk about beer, the weather, or just about anything else except politics, religion, or who makes the best
pizza. If you don’t have a friend you should still go to the bar. You can make a new one. I find it easy to make friends
at a bar. All I have to do is buy them a few rounds.
If you can’t make a friend don’t worry. Beer will always be your friend if you just ask.
2. Mainstream craft beers are fine and good but that’s not the real backbone of the movement. Instead of buying a
pint or four/six pack of a flagship beer from the likes of Yuengling (yes they are considered craft by the Brewers
Association), Stone, or Sam Adams get something out of the ordinary. Try a seasonal or a one-off. Try a beer from
brewery that is fresh on the scene. Try a style that is new to you. Buy direct from your local brewery. Go to beer
stores that carry products from up and coming breweries that often self distribute. Buying habits like these are what
kindled the early craft movement and they’re what will sustain it. And always look for the BA Independent Seal. Note -
I did not receive a gratuity for that endorsement (but it better be coming. And soon.)
3. If you learn about beer you’ll enjoy it more which is a big reason for craft’s growth in the first place. There are
countless websites about beer you can read though BeerNexus is clearly the best. BeerNexus is clearly the best.
BeerNexus is clearly the best. Read the BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) style guidelines, available online.
Take a class in beer. Study to become a Cicerone or certified judge. Talk beer with someone knowledgeable.
Learning about most anything is fun, learning about beer is more fun. As you increase your Beer IQ you’ll find
yourself enjoying beer more than ever and the more you enjoy it the more you will be part of the core of influential
drinkers who keep craft growing.
4. Join a beer club. If there aren’t any around start one. I did just that one time, starting a club with co-workers.
Eventually we merged with one run by a local pub. You’d be surprised how many bars would welcome starting,
sponsoring, or just hosting a group. It means more sales for them, more enjoyment for you, and it supports the craft
industry. So next time you’re in your favorite bar just ask if they have a club or would like to start one. They might
laugh at you but it’s doubtful they would throw you out mainly because you’re too good a customer.
5. Visit small breweries on a regular basis. It’s the easiest way to support the continued growth of craft beer. Please
don’t tell me there aren’t any close to you. Most Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery according to the Brewers
Association. If you’re worried about beer’s calories then remember,ten miles isn’t that far for you (not me) to walk and
burn up a bunch of them.
6. Take a hit for the team and visit local breweries even if their beers aren’t very good. They might eventually
improve and you’ll be the first to notice. If they don’t, ignore this suggestion.
7. Give your favorite breweries feedback about their beers. Tell them what you like, don’t like, and why. Suggest a
style you would like them to brew. Tell them what people are saying about their beers. Think of it as a sort of
grassroots market research that will help the brewery make products that will increase sales. A simple e-mail is all it
takes and it will likely be appreciated. It won’t get you a free drink but that’s not why you’re doing it. Well, at least it
isn’t the main reason.
8. Follow what’s going on in the beer business. Knowing about mergers, takeovers, acquisitions, sales stats, new
players, closings, and anything else will help you make decisions that support craft beer. Just a bit of information will
keep you from being like the many bozos (why are you thinking millennials?) who think they are supporting craft beer
when they buy things like Blue Moon or Blue Point Toasted Lager. .
9. When you go to your favorite beer store ask for a brand, style,or brewery they usually don't carry. If they aren't
already planning to bring it it they just might order it for you especially if you can convince them it would be a good
seller. If they flatly refuse tell them where they can stick a can of Lawson's Sip of Sunshine where the sun doesn't
shine but be sure to do it in the most polite way possible.
10. Never forget there is a vast right, left and middle wing conspiracy out there trying to stamp out independent craft
beer. Their one goal is to make all beer fuzzy yellow lagers. It’s not like I’m saying man never really landed on the
moon Paul McCartney actually died in 1966, survivors of the Roswell crash walk among us, Elvis is really alive
impersonating himself in a Vegas lounge every other Thursday, or teams could win the World Series by using high
tech gadgets to steal signs. No the dangers to craft beer are real.
Not to worry the forces of evil will not prevail. We craft beer drinkers will see to that. Let me start the ball rolling. I’m
heading to the bar right now and you can be damn sure I won’t be ordering a Bud Light.
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