We hear quite a bit about the ‘Craft Beer Movement’. ‘Craft beer’ is everywhere and, in the industry, people just cannot stop talking about the continually increasing sales in that market. With all this clamor about craft beer and with new breweries springing up all over the place I see an interesting, almost desperate, trend where everyone in the beer business is trying to define the craft beer market and get a piece of the action.
By definition, a ‘Craft Brewery’ is one with an annual production of 6 million barrels, or less. It is seen as much more than that, though, as creative marketing efforts, eclectic brews and demand spikes over limited releases point towards an incredible market force.
Craft beer has become an idea bigger than the volume of beer being produced, creating the path for an enormous spike in new breweries. The Brewers Association reports a normal rate of new breweries in the 100 to 200 per year range. At the end of the first quarter this year they reported over 600 breweries in the planning stages. This should lead to tons of new and exciting offerings, as well as more than a few broken dreams. Brewing is a tough business and economies of scale are challenging to achieve.
No matter what, this is undoubtedly an exciting time to be a beer enthusiast. The market is boiling like superheated wort and consumers are fueling the fire with crazy behavior. With their ears to the ground, folks anticipate new releases. Breweries lucky enough to have rumbled up underground accolades of their unusual quality turn loose their liquid gold and the people pounce. Every bottle is collected and every keg drained within days of a beer’s release. Beer lovers are hungry… uh thirsty, for more and more and more.
So, what is really going on out there and how do brewers and distributors make sense of it? I think that it is actually pretty simple. ‘Craft beer’ is this grandiose idea, but let’s think for a moment about a basic fact that is true for all breweries enjoying success in the craft market – the beer is GOOD! It tastes good, plain and simple. Good ingredients, passion for brewing and the consumer’s awakening to the wondrous results are what is happening.
It is no surprise. Consumers are showing strong motivation to seek quality in what they will ingest (food and drink alike). The attention to the ingredients in food, the surge in sales of organic products and the success of businesses like Whole Foods all highlight this. Cooking shows are all over television. CSAs are in every town. Fine restaurants thrive. People like good stuff. Beer is no different. I think that perhaps the single biggest driving force behind the craft beer industry is that… It is Good!