It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, I just got back from a beer festival;you know I love them. My plan was to first go to
every new brewery there of which there were about 9 or 10. Sadly, at least six of them weren't
very good. And that gives me concern. With the craft beer industry booming, quality control is
becoming a problem. Roughly 1,250 new breweries opened in the last five years, bringing the
total to 2,822 nationwide. Yet not everyone who wants to make good beer knows how to make
good beer, so many of fledgling ventures — all with varying levels of experience, knowledge,
and skill — has led to some really bad brews hitting the market.
The industry prides itself on innovation and creativity, but those traits can be problematic when
inexperienced brewers try to make difficult or unusual brews right from the start. And this
mentality has led to some brewers rebelling against pale light lagers and racing to market with
bold, but not very good recipes. I'd hate to see the craft beer industry being brought down
due to drinkers having had bad experiences in their glass.
Don't get me wrong. I respect all brewers but maybe some of the inexperienced ones should
perfect their technique on basic brews instead of starting out making seaweed, Sriracha, and
cucumbers beer among other oddities. I've had many a beer with unusual ingredients and
when well made, have enjoyed the taste adventure. But sometimes the beer is simply terrible
and the brewer doesn't recognize that harsh fact.
Craft beer has becoming a high growth industry, a sure fire investment bonanza. But it's not
as easy as many newbies think. Though they often come to the industry as experienced
homebrewers, they may know little about how to transpose their stovetop brewing to
commercial equipment,not to mention all the other aspects of creating and running a business.
Think back, Bill. The craft industry contracted in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in part
because too many entrepreneurs entered the field assuming they could strike it rich without
knowing — or worse, caring — enough about the product.
It is incredibly difficult to brew flawless beer again and again. Even the best breweries aren't
immune to botched batches and infections. But compared to the macro giants, craft brewers
operate on thin profit margins that can serve as a disincentive to unimpeachable quality
control. Business survival will trump everything for these new enterprises. So what if the beer
that comes out of the fermenter is infected? The brewery just might feel they need to sell that
beer to pay bills, and investors, and loans.
Now before you accuse me of being a terrible pessimist, I have good news for you. Today craft
brewers have some impressive equipment to identify impurities —things like spectrophoto-
meters, gas chromatographs — that are readily available even for small, new breweries. Also,
given the industry's much-hyped camaraderie, established breweries are often willing to lend a
hand to the new guys. And that's a good thing,.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hey Gina, if you keep worrying about stuff like this you're bound to get ulcers. Then you'll be
drinking milk instead of beer. That's not good. So, relax, things will be fine. The market will
separate the good from the bad and reward each accordingly. That's what happens in any
industry, beer included.
Now if I really wanted to get you worrying I'd bring up the topic of all those crowd sourced reviews
available just about everywhere online. You might make the best brown ale anyone has ever
tasted but a few lunkheads on some site will give it a one for some inane reason. And the
reverse can be true. I saw someone give an ESB a top rating because it was "delightfully sour".
Stuff like that can hurt the industry too.
As to your point about quality control let me make a statement that just might shock you.
Brewing one batch of Bud is really hard to do- with so little flavor, there is nothing for a flaw to
hide behind. Repeatedly brewing a beer so that one batch tastes just like the last five is also
really hard to do. Add those two things together and you quickly realize what many brewers know:
in terms of quality control, Budweiser is actually the best in the business. Did you faint, Gina? If
not, maybe this will do it: I believe that Budweiser is the single most well-crafted beer in the US!
Look, recipe formulation is super hard. Almost any decent home brewer can come up with a tasty
one. The challenge is to make it well without flaw or difference over and over again. AB sets the
bar for macro- and micro-brewers alike when it comes to quality and consistency. But they make
a very specific style of beer– the American Adjunct Lager. It's a style I don't like since it's just
about tasteless, but that's not the fault of the brewers who do an exceptional job.
If I walk into your nano brewery and get a beer that I could have brewed at home,or a sour beer
that just tastes like it was infected (I have done both), I'm probably not coming back. If you want
to prove that you are a serious player in the game I agree with you that the brewer should be
able to make a basic beer (American Pale Ale for instance) consistently. I'm not sure that a lot
tiny startups can do that. And yes, you're right when you imply that many new breweries are
being founded by homebrewers with no previous professional brewing background. The passion
is there but the experience is not. That will likely mean mediocre beer at best.
Having said that please note that I think people have a perception that because you are new you
are not going to be good, which is disheartening. The beer just might be outstanding. It's a fact
that many new breweries have quickly gained national reputations for not just quality but
innovation. This industry we both love isn’t just a club where you got in early enough and you
can reap the rewards and keep everyone else out, Some of the new brewers are going to have a
lot to add to craft beer's growth and prestige.
That's my view and of course it's right where you agree, and wrong when you don't. Ha. Just
teasing my favorite beer person!
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.