After some years of unprecedented growth and a shared sense that the sky was indeed the limit, Craft Beer – mainly in the United States – is facing some serious troubles. It will thus only be a matter of time before these issues start hitting craft beer in Europe – so, brewers, read on and prepare yourselves!
The challenges and issues that pose threats to craft (regardless of the fact it is a meaningless and ‘empty’ word, craft: it has no definition and is but an emotion) will soon grow into serious troubles and are hilarious, frightening and unavoidable. They are, in all earnest, part of the normal economic cycle process associated with rapidly growing industries. In short, craft is growing up.
The hilarious troubles
“The craft-beer industry is running out of names,” the Wall Street Journal wrote in a recent report. If it wasn’t so hilarious you’d almost feel for the poor brewers, fighting each other over the use of the most catchy beer names. Long gone are the days where a brewery would simply label its beers by means of printing the style below its trademark name: Heineken Pilsener, Guinness Irish Stout, Anchor Steam Beer – those were the days.
Even before this issue started to arise some weird names were being used: ‘Dude, where’s my Vespa?’ is still one I will never forget, neither as ‘Pearl Necklace’. But now it seems the English language is running out of acceptable words and phrases – as a consequence brewers fall over each other over anchors, animals and references to mental incapability just to name their brews. They’re running out of Plineys and Arrogant Bastards and I cannot help but laugh myself red in the face.
Although I believe the linguistic situation is not as bad in the Netherlands as in the States, brewers have already started to use some really odd names for their beers. ‘FF lekker met je bek in het zonnetje’ (Quickly catching some sun in your face), ‘Sexy Motherbocker’ and ‘Oma’s Pruim’ (Granny’s Plum) are just some terrifying examples illustrating the cartoonish approach to beer naming adopted here. We’ll see where these troubles lead us, but I am not optimistic. ‘Festering Open Wound Porter’, I bet we’ll order it someday.
The frightening troubles
Walmart, the world’s largest supermarket chain and retailer, is launching its own private label craft beer, Business Insider told us. Ironically the beers are brewed in Rochester, New York, by Trouble Brewing brewery. That is just so funny! Back to the subject: the parent company is High Falls Brewery, currently America’s fifth largest beer production company, specialized in contract brewing. This development is as unavoidable as it is frightening and will rank among the same threat-level to good beer as AB InBev’s hunger to become the first $ 1,000 billion revenue brewery in the galaxy. Side stepping: ABI’s track record is deplorable, buying small breweries and milking them dry, ruining the beer’s flavors and wrecking brewery reputations. It cares for money only and not for beer: in fact, the AB InBev board of directors’ passion for beer equals that of a lion for carrots, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson’s passion for bankers and politicians or a lesbian for Justin Bieber (although the latter is debatable). Sure, the beers will be affordable – but great beers are already an affordable luxury, so spare me the dimes and pennies and give me good beer, full of flavor and aroma, made with love for the product and a necessary eye on the bottom line (brewing is a means of making a living, not a hobby – I get that). But do not fool me – I expect my grocer to take me as the grown-up adult I am! So spare me your supermarket private labels, and spare me your AB InBev brewery euthanasia.
The unavoidable troubles
Beer is hugely popular today and this attracts quick money makers. With over 4,600 breweries active in the United States and close to 3,000 breweries in planning (!) we’re nearing a saturation point. And is no longer the – in itself chewy and cheesy – stories of ‘three friends, with a shared passion for beer, deciding to start brewing the beers they REALLY like to drink’ kind of start-ups that dominate the beer landscape anymore. It’s bankers, accountants and entrepreneurs who’ve failed at other things that are diving into the pool. My employer, Bier&cO, gets around 25 (!) brewery portfolios offered in representation – weekly. Individual little gems aside, most are mediocre yet most have the unmistakable smell of quick money around them. Some ‘brewers’ do not even know what fermentation is. One of the biggest threats to craft, and it is as unavoidable as it is horrifying, is that of simply very badly made beer. And be aware, it is everywhere – if not today, maybe tomorrow, in a bar near you! Stand up to this BS.
By now I hope you, the beer drinker, have learned to distinguish between well-made and not-so-well-made beer. Mind you: this is not the same as the difference between beer you like or dislike, because of the flavors and aromas or the size of the brewery it comes from. Big breweries by and large make high-quality beers and most small breweries do too, although the smaller they are, the more they (occasionally) seem to struggle with simple hygiene and overall quality. Do not accept mediocre and less. Turn away the rubbish and support your (local) quality brewery. Do not worry too much about craft and what of earth it may be but care for plain, simple quality: make the world a better and tastier place. When you smell money, make a run for it.