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My take on “Craft vs. Crafty”

It’s been a busy week but I’ve finally had a chance to take a look at the American Brewers Association article titled Craft vs. Crafty. It looks to be a pretty well planned attack on the big brewers (who are members of the BA). There are plenty of articles from blogs and major news sources with reaction.

While I agree with the premise of the article I do have some concerns. It is clear that macro breweries are trying to make products that impersonate craft beer. Two of the examples cited are Blue Moon and Shock Top. Both successful products from the macros. The large breweries have followed the “if you can’t beat em’, join em'” mentality. While this may put an end to some small breweries I think it is an overall good thing. If more people are exposed to beer with actual flavor, they might be enticed to branch out more, in effect actually helping the craft beer industry. Why is more competition in the space a bad thing?

There are more breweries in the U.S. now than there ever has been. To be fair, some of the craft breweries leave a lot to be desired. I’ve had some excellent beers and some terrible ones from various different craft breweries. Craft doesn’t always equate to quality. The process for making beer is the same, large or small. My 5 gallon batches have a lot in common with the 100 barrel batches that are brewed at the macros.

I think it is a bit short cited of the BA to slam the door on the big guys, when they are living proof that the craft beer movement isn’t going way. The macros are scrambling to find a solution to their shrinking market share. We know that they cannot match the quality of the excellent craft brewers who put everything ahead of costs. If you are confident in your product and produce a high quality one, the macros pose no threat.

I don’t like the David vs. Goliath scenarios that pop up all of the time. It’s fine for one company to go against another, but when you are talking about an entire industry, the argument loses a little luster. Maybe I’m way off here, but I don’t think this press release from the BA did anything to promote craft beer.

Beer Review #85 Howl Winter Seasonal

Today’s winter seasonal comes from another Vermont brewery, Magic Hat. Magic Hat Brewing Company is based in South Burlington, Vermont and is one of the larger craft breweries around. This winter beer is classified as a Schwarzbier which is German for black beer. Those Germans sure love their compound words. From my experience they have been light in body and are wonderfully roasty in flavor. Let’s see if Howl meets my prior expectations.

Howl Winter Seasonal pours a very deep brown to black with a nice tan head. If you tilt your glass so that the beer is thin on the edges you can see that it is clear. The aroma coming from this beer is really nice. It is a mix of dark chocolates and roasted coffee. It is not overpowering, but subtle and nice. There is also some slight smoky smells in there.

The taste is nice and smoky. It is super roasty, but not in a biting way. There is a bit of a hop flavor on the end, but it is very slight. Balance is the real shinning point for this beer, everything is just perfect. It’s dark, but not really fully of spices of alcohol. Heck, this beer comes in at only 4.6% ABV. It’s not your typical winter beer, but it does such of nice job of delivering flavors that I don’t mind. Howl really helped me remember how much I like this style of beer. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do. It is something a bit different, but very wonderful.

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Important January 24th items

January 24th happens to be a special day in this beer blogger’s life. Not only is it a day that I get to celebrate being alive, my buddy Mike also passed along that the first canned beer was sold on this day in 1935.

1935: The first canned beer in the United States goes on sale in Richmond, Virginia. By the end of the year, 37 breweries follow the lead of the Gottfried Krueger Brewery.

The American Can Co. began experimenting with canned beer in 1909. But the cans couldn’t withstand the pressure from carbonation — up to 80 pounds per square inch — and exploded. Just before the end of the Prohibition in 1933, the company developed a “keg-lining” technique, coating the inside of the can the same as a keg.

For a long time canned beer didn’t make a craft beer drinker’s mouth water, but canned beer is making a comeback in the craft beer world. There are many reasons why it is a great choice for craft breweries but it has been a slow adoption. Happy January 24th folks!

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Brewpub disadvantages

IMG_0996 (400x267) (200x200)Last week I talked about some of the benefits of owning a brewpub. To make this dream of mine a reality I also need to address the drawbacks of a brewpub as well. Granted I am no expert in any of this, I am purely posting my thoughts and what I am able to see, so if you have more suggestions please let me know. There are a number of disadvantages to owning and operating a brewpub vs. a brewery. Some may seem small and insignificant but they all add up to something that matters.

The first disadvantage that I am able to find is that you have a much more limited audience. A brewpub can realistically pull people from a radius of about 20-30 miles at a maximum. While I have personally traveled much greater distances to get to a good brewpub, that is not what the average consumer will do. A brewery can distribute in a large area and be in many places at once whereas a brewpub can only be in one spot. The advertising, marketing, and branding have to be completely different in order to bring in a crowd. I also believe that a brewpub must advertise to help stay alive, while most craft breweries do little if any advertising.

Another disadvantage is that a brewpub cannot focus only on beer. While the beer provides a nice profit margin and an additional source of income, food is more important. Nobody goes to a restaurant that doesn’t have good food. The restaurant market is much larger than the brewpub market, therefore food has to be exceedingly important. Customers can go to a number of restaurants to get food (and a commercial beer) if that is what they are looking for. So everything from beer to food needs to be quality as consumers have a number of choices.

The third disadvantage is that you are not just running a brewery. There are a lot of other factors to think about and be worried about while running a brewpub. A whole extra list of expenses comes into the mix as well. No longer do you have to worry about brewery equipment, you also have kitchen, bar, and restaurant items that need to be addressed. A brewery has no need for a flat-top cooker or bar stools or booths, but a brewpub certainly does. The decorum also needs to be more dressed up than what a brewery has. A brewery, while magical to most of us, is an industrial facility that makes a product. A brewpub is a commercial product that makes a product(s) and delivers an experience. You also have additional staff that need to be qualified for the job and trained on beer knowledge, service, and a number of other things.

The final disadvantage does along with the theme of a brewery being industrial and a brewpub being commercial. Breweries can lease space in places that don’t get a lot of foot traffic because they are not looking for traffic, they are looking to produce and distribute beer. A brewpub has to lease in a place with high foot traffic, ample parking, and be in a desirable location. Needless to say, rent is much higher in a brewpub than what a brewery would ever be.

Let me know if I missed anything when analyzing the disadvantages of owning a brewpub in comparison with a brewery. Thanks for reading and I will be back soon with more ideas for my brewpub.

Big beer prices going up

MillerCoors and Busch announced that they are both going to be increasing prices this fall according to this article.. What I find interesting is the following quote from the article.

“The price increases are part of a strategy by the companies to protect profits rather than market share, said Harry Schuhmacher, editor of the trade publication Beer Business Daily. Consumers should expect to pay more because ‘retailers will not eat the price increases.'”

So the big boys are going to be giving up some market share in order to keep their profits the same. To me that sounds like a bad idea in that their sales have remained flat over the past several years. They are unlikely to gain that market share back once it is gone.There are so many micro or craft breweries out there today just waiting to get a bigger piece of the pie.

I’m not saying that the big beer prices are going to come up to a craft or micro level, but the closer that gap is, the better it is for the small breweries. I was talking to my buddy Pete the other day and we discussed the article and some of the implications. He told me about a business professor at some hoity-toity college that was predicting the downfall of one of the big companies. I don’t know if that would be a good or bad thing but the implications would be interesting.

Maybe the big companies are like the O’Doyle family who have a strong arm and can use it, but are heading for a major downfall. I you don’t get that reference watch the video below.

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Of the big companies I see Busch as the biggest innovator. They have put several new beers out to the market that attempt to emulate craft beers, but for a larger share of the market. What have Miller and Coors done recently? I could be totally wrong as I don’t look at any of those breweries much, but that’s how I see it. What do you think of the beer price increases and/or the survivability of the big boys.