One Indiana Drinker’s Reaction to the ‘Looming Crisis’ in Craft Beer
I recently read an article on Daily Beast about the looming crisis in craft beer. We have reason to be excited with the exponential growth of our hobby and/or business, and it’s hard to argue that craft beer has not neared its current zenith. A larger percentage of people drink craft beer than ever before and new breweries open up every week. As a realist, I understand this cannot go on forever, and I hope an implosion does not happen soon.
For anyone who turned 21 after 2009, it probably seems like craft beer has always been prevalent. Yet I have been a fan of craft beer since the late 90s, and I watched it experience a very slow climb into popularity. 10 years ago, the only craft beer some people saw was at a beer festival or a very good liquor store. Now craft beer drinkers have increased to over 12% of beer drinkers, and this percentage is still growing. Domestic beer will always have a loyal following, so growth will abate at some point. All the same, it is amazing to be a part of this exciting beer culture and see the vibrant styles of beer being brewed right now. As I have said before, I never expected to see good Belgian ales being made by multiple breweries in Indiana.
There will probably be 140 breweries in Indiana by the end of the year, and that is truly a lot. Don’t forget hundreds of craft breweries outside of our state also sell their beer here, and a lot of corporate restaurants have their tap list curated by somebody in another state. So, there are a lot of hands in the cookie jar and at the end the day, only a finite number of craft beer drinkers. While I want every Indiana brewery to be successful, it will be difficult for them all to grow. And it’s a fact of life that multiple breweries are bottling the same type of beers, and many experts feel more beer is being made then can be consumed while it is fresh. In central Indiana, we have a store that sells all the overproduced beer at closeout prices, and I have mixed feelings about whether this is always a good thing. It’s the breweries that bottle excellent beer, have a niche and have great branding that will be most successful.
The article I read predicts a serious trimming of the ranks in six months to two years. Perhaps this may occur, but I still see a healthy craft beer market in Indiana. I hope most, if not all, the breweries can weather the storm.
As a fan of Indiana beer, I have already seen casualties over the past 20 years. There was a bust on the original craft beer movement in 1996 that saw many breweries go under. The South Bend Brewing Company was one such victim. In 2008, the brewing industry as we know it was just gaining momentum. Warbird in Fort Wayne was making great beer, but this expensive hobby for the owner fell through, and I’m sure you may be aware of a brewery or two that has also recently gone under for whatever reason. Hendricks County has lost 2 breweries in the past few years, and there soon may be others.
Let’s face it, the brewery is a business, and and it is smart businesses that will succeed. Breweries that will thrive will have good product, good marketing, and the wherewithal to understand the changing climate of craft beer drinkers taste. There might be a thinning of the ranks, but the strong breweries will certainly survive.
So while there is concern that our beloved craft beer industry will not continue to grow exponentially, I feel that if brewers keep their loyal drinkers and find ways to promote their beer locally, they will be successful. Rita Kohn, author of “True Brew,” thinks small towns are more likely to sustain interest in craft beer, and I agree. A local watering hole serving craft beer in this environment has a loyal following if they do things correctly, and I know for a fact that taproom activities are what can build business there. Taproom sales represent a large percentage of many breweries overall income. Bottom line is if you get people to come to your brewery for your product, you have a captive audience. And of course, then there comes the question of food and many breweries handle the situation many different ways. My suggestion is to be consistent with what you do offer in that department. I knew a brew pub that tweaked their menu several times only to alienate a local population because they were trying hard to get hotel business. Food at breweries is a subject in and of it self, and probably would make for another article.
It’s safe to say that we have reached a near-saturation point here locally, and very soon we may tap out how many breweries we can sustain. It will be a competitive market, and the breweries that want to be successful will have to be creative and innovative all while making great beer. I know a lot of people in the trenches of brewing, and I believe they can do it.
So if you are a craft beer drinker, enjoy as much beer as you can. You and your friends play a big role in sustaining what has happened in Indiana over the last six years. You have a say in what beers are successful, and I encourage every reader to visit as many breweries as you can and as many events as they can. Remember, events at breweries are usually free, (not including your tab), and are a great way to get familiar with who these businesses are.
So while what we have in craft beer is special, it will only continue with sufficient support. I have seen enough while visiting Indiana breweries over the last six months to say the movement is still quite alive and healthy. We make great beer in Indiana and I am proud to be a Hoosier drinker. As I write this, I can’t help but think how many dreams are a reality right now for Indiana brewers. I love what is going on, and hope this energy continues for as long as it can.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know!