Charles Dunkley

Wondering aloud with words and pictures

The Session 102 – The Landscape of Beer

The Session - Beer Blogging Friday


My friend Allen Huerta is running this month’s The Session and his topic is an interesting one:

The Landscape of Beer

Allen asks:

How do you see that landscape now? What about in 5, 10, or even 20 years? A current goal in the American Craft Beer Industry is 20% market share by the year 2020. How can we get there? Can we get there?

My Thoughts on the Beer Landscape

In my opinion the craft beer industry is in flux. As it continues to grow and breweries pop up all across the US their share of the overall beer market grows as well.

2015 has seen a continued increase in that percentage. This is largely due to the following:

  • A combination of more and more Americans turning away from the American Macro Lager and towards beers bursting with diversity and flavor.
  • The raising of the cap limit that labels one a craft brewer allowing Samuel Adams Boston Beer Co. to remain in the craft beer fold and has also benefited Yuengling by allowing them to join that group.

All of this, while beneficial to the craft beer drinker, has brought the attention – vastly unwanted by the craft beer drinker – into the sights of the big Macro Lager Corporations.

These Macro companies: AB InBev and SABMiller, have been trying to figure out how to tap into this booming market. Some would say they are actually trying to dampen this craft beer growth but that really is a matter for debate.

The Macros have taken 3 main tactics so far:

  1. Produce beers disguised as Craft Beer
  2. Insult Craft Beer drinkers
  3. Begin buying up successful craft breweries

And here we come to where I believe the Craft Beer landscape currently is:

The Beer Landscape is Fluid and Unstable

Wild growth combined with the Macros swooping in and picking off craft brewery stars really does leave the future of craft beer uncertain.

One place where craft beer is doing very well is in the small local town microbreweries that are popping up almost by the hour throughout the US.

Now this isn’t neccessarily a great thing for craft beer. Who knows how many of these new establishments are really ready to be a professional brewery yet? Many of their beer recipes are really still in their infancy stages and could really use a lot more tweaking and experimenting before being released for sale.

Consistency is king.

An area where many of these small microbreweries are still struggling. And an area the Macro breweries have mastered.  Say what you will about the tastelessness and inferiority of the Macro Lager.

But pick up a Bud brewed anywhere in the US and it will taste exactly the same every time.  That is an amazing level of skill and consistency.  It is such a shame that expertise is wasted on such a dull product.

And here is where things are beginning to get interesting.

We are just beginning to creep up on a time that is inevitable:

Our craft beer pioneers are beginning to age. They are beginning to realize that retirement is beginning to nudge the backs of their brains.

Where do we go from here?

And they are approaching that: What was building all of this for in
the end? Great beer? Absolutely. But where will it leave their grandchildren and their children?

Can they just keep going until someone else takes the reigns? Or do they need to think about securing that financial future?

And here is where AB InBev and SABMiller are beginning to make headway. While this might not be the main reason why since 2011 four major craft breweries have sold their business to these big corporations, one would think it must play some role.

And who can really blame them? When offered tens of millions of dollars (or more) it’s a hard thing to walk away from. Could you turn your back on a financial windfall that will set your future generations up for life?

It is a decision many of the top craft beer breweries are being faced with these days. And some are saying NEVER! And some are saying Yes, it is time.

But there are two other avenues helping shape the craft beer landscape in play.

An Alternative Emerges

Duvel has been on a long term plan to extend its foothold into the US Craft Beer Market and they have done so with purchases of Brewery Ommegang, Boulevard Brewing, and most recently, Firestone Walker

Duvel is a highly respected family owned brewery in Europe where they own a few other Belgian breweries. Unlike the backlash breweries like Goose Island, 10 Barrel and Elysian have faced selling to the Macros, Duvel’s purchases have been widely accepted as a good thing.

Part of this is they have been hands off when it comes to Ommegang’s signature Belgian Beers. And they have been a finanial help. This has lead to almost non-existent fears of any lessening of quality in Boulevard or Firestone.

IPO and Employee Ownership

The other avenue that has begun to appear is owners looking to go public or to transfer a portion of the ownership to the Employees.

These are all looked at as alternatives to craft breweries who have reached their own internal saturation point as far as being able to afford to grow any more.

Overall, this is a newly emerging alternative and it remains to be seen if these newest two options prove to have any lasting success.

As you can see there is so many different things happening in the American Craft Beer world it makes it really difficult to have any sense of just what the Craft Beer Landscape will look like in 2020 or 2050.

My Benchmark For a Secure Future

As long as Arrogant Bastard is still out there with his Liquid
Arrogance untouched then perhaps all will be well in the craft beer world in the end.

All I know is between now and then I’ve a lot of great new craft beers to explore.

So where is the Landscape of Beer headed? Who knows? Maybe I will finally take up brewing some craft beer myself before the decade is out so it won’t really matter. Let me sit back on this #IPAday 2015 with a delicious craft beer and mull it over for a fortnight or two.

Suggested reading:

My Road to Craft Beer Nation


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Charles Dunkley

I blog about Craft Beer | Technology | Social Media | Music and a host of other topics.I work in the Information Technology field and I'm also a Moderator and Hangouts On Air Technical Producer for Craft Beer Nation.
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