What Can We Expect In 2018?

For BeerNexus.com

So we’ve just turned the page on 2017 and what a year it was for craft beer. If you
look at sheer numbers there are approximately 6,000 craft brewers in the US; who
would have believed we’d have so many just a few years ago. Mega brew and
venture capital buyouts have continued as well as a new phenomenon, where a
brewery sells a stake of itself to buy a stake in another brewery. I haven’t quite
figured out what the purpose of that is or what it accomplishes but as usual whenever
you think you’ve seen it all there’s more. And many breweries have been inundating
us with multiple “recipe changes” to a beer style, most usually IPA, which can viewed
be both positively and negatively. So all in all 2017 was a banner year! I must say I
very seldom, if ever, had an issue finding a new beer to taste or one that I didn’t want
to have again and if that’s not a good measuring stick then I don’t have a clue what is.

So what can we possibly expect in 2018??

Scientific studies and technological advances affect all areas of our life, and that
includes beer! A major study will conclude that drinking Crud, err Budweiser makes
you do stupid things. It’s a front page headline, a real stunner, except to those of us
drinking craft beers, who’ve known this for years. AB/InBev disputes the study and
calls it “fake news.”  Nonetheless sales drop precipitously and AB/InBev recalls all
Budweiser and exchanges it for Corona. They also change their name to
Corona/InBev. That will be the major beer story of 2018…you heard it first here.

Another major study finds that there really is silver in the Silver Bullet, but alas no
beer! Molson Coors cries “fake news” and produces a counter study that shows the
Silver Bullet actually has a fraction of a percent more alcohol than “no alcohol” beers.
But the Silver Bullet stops leaving the station like it was. Molson Coors announces a
major reformulation taking out all the silver, which causes silver on the stock market
to drop to $.04/share, and changes the name to “Silly You! Thought It Was Beer.”
Another major mega brew player who will take a hit in 2018.

Technology strikes again, when little known BeerFace Brewing becomes the first to
make a craft beer that doesn’t give you a hangover! None of us ever expected that
breakthrough in our lifetime, but here it is. Marc Beerface, yes he named the brewery
after himself, being a true craft beer aficionado licenses the secret to thousands of
craft beer breweries and craft beer sales go wild. Craft beer bars do unprecedented
business as everyone needs to try out all the “no hangover” beers. The CBA comes
up with a new slogan “Great Taste, No Hangover” and it becomes the craft beer
mantra. Mr. Beerface is also a good businessman as part of the license is a
revocation right should any craft brewery try to sell out to a mega brew or venture
capitalist, keeping his secret safe. Mr. Beerface is a very popular guy and other
entrepreneurs, like the other Mark of FaceBook fame are seen in his company. By
the end of 2018 craft beer sales will be 49.9% of the market.

And in another strange twist in the scientific and business world, Rite Aid, trying to
compete with CVS and Walgreens, announces they will make prescription beer and
sell it in all their stores. Their new slogan will be “Forgot about those big pills and
harsh liquids; we’ll reformulate them into your own delicious personal craft Rx beer.”
The FDA is not so sure they like the idea but trial studies indicate that patients love
it! In a follow up study, it is found that patients are much more diligent about taking
their “meds” than ever before! The general population gets healthier and no one
signs up for Obamacare in 2019. As usual President Trump claims a personal victory
for shutting it down.

Whoa, I can’t wait for this year to proceed; it’s going to be great! Okay okay, maybe
these things won’t all happen next year, maybe it will take a couple, so let’s back off a
little and see if I can be more realistic.

Let’s start with the easy one. I think we can expect the number of new breweries to
continue to increase at a record pace. Many beers are the color of gold and I think
that’s what many think about opening a new brewery. Although they all tell you they
love beer and started as a homebrewer I am definitely skeptical of many. Establishing
a brewery is a business and unless you’re independently wealthy you need to make
enough to cover your costs and be able to support yourself and whatever family you
may have. We should also give a nod to the Republican Congress as the new tax bill
will help businesses including craft beer.

Consolidation - We’ve seen it the past few years as more breweries open and the
craft beer geeks, err lovers, can’t wait to taste the next new beer, they forget about
the great ones they’ve already had and don’t go back. So surprise, unless you
reformulate and come out with variations, you may start to lose sales and wind up in
trouble. It happened to D.L. Geary’s, Maine’s first craft brewery, when there were
only twelve others in the US, established in 1983 and began pouring in 1986. They
made great beer for decades, but stuck with the same beers and their sales began
plummeting a few years ago. Luckily someone bought them and is invigorating their
lineup so they will hopefully survive. But that is not the case with all breweries. I’ve
tasted many of the new ones here in NJ that to be honest had one good beer in their
lineup; they make what I call “pedestrian” beer. It’s not bad, but it’s not real good
either. If they don’t improve and go out of business that’s okay with me.  Many are
able to survive because of the liberal tasting room laws/rules here in NJ. As long as
they don’t serve food, they can have TVs and bands and be open seven days a
week and operate under a much cheaper license than bars and restaurants. In some
areas the local bars and restaurants don’t like the unfair competition and refuse to
serve the local beers in their area; can’t blame them. And with more craft breweries
could we see more of that? So we should see some go out of business, some get
bought by others or merge and as usual some get bought by the mega brews or
venture capitalists.
Tap Takeovers – used to be many of these were new introductions to NJ, but that
seems to have calmed down. Expanding into other states isn’t the guarantee now
that it was years ago. Usually everyone rushes to try it, but the question is after all
the introduction hoopla will they continue to get draft lines and shelf space in the
stores. With so many different brands and styles out now I pity the stores as they
need row upon row for all the different choices and, if they’re smart, understand they
need to watch their inventory as it can get old fast unless you have a very diverse
clientele. I find it interesting that one of the bigger craft breweries, Bell’s out of
Michigan, is in NY, but not in NJ. They’re Two Hearted Ale and Hopslam are first rate
beers. Would be interesting to talk to them and find out why and what they’re
strategy is. So sure the bars will continue to do tap takeovers and the distributors will
continue to push to do them, but I think it will be many of the already established
breweries and local ones that actually make good beer, as opposed to a lot of “new
to the state” breweries.
Festivals – there seem to be more every year and why wouldn’t that continue. If you
have more breweries opening then you have more breweries that want you to taste
their beers. I did three in 2017 and don’t see me doing much more than that again in
I also see no end in sight to the constant reformulation and release strategy. Tweak
this, add this hop, double dry hop; hey if we consumers are going to buy it then that’s
what the brewers will continue to do.
And there will be the tag-a-longs or adjuncts, those who come up with an app or
product connected to craft beer so they can hope to ride the wave. I actually just
partook in one called Hopsy, who will deliver fresh craft beer to your door. I couldn’t
resist the introductory offer and it was a great deal but at full price I’m not a customer.
So that’s my early thoughts on what we’ll see and hopefully taste in 2018. Oh and by
the way if I’m wrong on some or all of this, then I’ll stick to my day job…drinking beer.

Here’s to 2018

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

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