28 Mar Our Beer Culture And Its Future
(Indiana On Tap note: this piece was written before the shutdown began. As you read it, see if you think the shutdown would have changed the focus or outlook.)
At the end of 2017, I took a step back from drinking. As I reflect back to that time, I felt perhaps we had reached a zenith in craft beer breweries. There were more breweries than I could remember, and I felt our market was perhaps over-saturated with more choices than our craft beer drinking population could sustain. In the past two years, breweries have come and gone with the numbers still climbing slowly. Then, at the most recent Winterfest, I was taken back with all the new breweries I discovered! We are saturated, but I don’t think we have seen a point that will mark the end of a market still conducive to start ups.
Yes, it’s a volatile market, and breweries will continue to come and go, and it’s sometimes your favorite brewery that will shut down. This is the nature of the beast, but creative and innovative breweries that create the proper amount of business will thrive. Pushing the envelope has become the trend, and I think it will continue. As growth ensues, it will often come in places you least expect. And lastly, it’s the new breweries that will force the stalwarts to be on their toes thereby keeping our craft beer fresh and exciting.
I have written several articles arguing that our craft beer culture is healthy. It is vibrant, and the crowds at the festivals seem diverse. Recently I read that the wine industry feels that it has not adequately reached the Millennials, and this helps craft beer. Yet with so many breweries on the market, it is a survival of the fittest, and this brings me to my first point. Breweries in this market will find the most success if they remain innovative, and willing to brew beyond their comfort zone.
Now more than ever, we have a more knowledgeable craft beer crowd. Indeed when I cut my teeth 20 years on craft beer, it was sours, smoked beers, and all things Belgian that interested me. Sadly I found that few stateside breweries were tinkering in these diverse old world styles that were beyond the norm. Now plenty of breweries are making beers in these styles, and many of them are excellent. Along with barrel aging, and the constant reinvention of the IPA, we have a true cornucopia of beer styles to choose from.
Some breweries have fine flagship beers, but good upstarts should brew excellently, and often. Pleasant surprises make the festivals exciting, and I am pleased with what I am seeing a lot of breweries do. It’s a necessity to flourish in a market that’s competitive where everyone must find their niche. Some breweries have attracted the heavy-metal crowd and this is a great group who always has loved to drink. There are plenty of breweries making run-of-the-mill beer, but those willing to step up their game will thrive in this competitive market.
Secondly I would like to focus on where I see the potential for the most growth to occur. Mark Lasbury, and others agree with me that there is not a lot of room left in our cities for new breweries, and we believe the growth will continue elsewhere. True Brew author Rita Kohn told me several years ago that there is plenty of room for breweries in “small communities where drinkers loyalty can be built, and sustained!” They would have a large area to draw from, and can be very successful with less local competition. I already see it happening state wide, and it will continue as long as small town brewers establish loyal customers. And for the city drinkers, we occasionally like to venture out to the nether regions for good beer.
It’s not just the small towns where brewing can flourish. True rural brewing has potential as well. There are successful brewing farms nationwide and we have ample farms here for this to happen locally. Just this month I saw how successful rural brewing can be when I visited Screech Owl Brewing deep in the hills of West Virginia. Miles from anything they fill their tap room early and often. The time is right and I believe the right people can make rural brewing successful here in Indiana as well.
So now I want to focus on the point that led me to write this article. I firmly believe the influx of new breweries are doing something special, and everyone would do well to take notice. A lot of the larger craft breweries and stalwarts of the trade have been caught napping as these upstarts are stealing thunder. Last month I talked with the bartender at Mishawaka’s Hop Station who felt the larger breweries have not upped their game in a while and are being blown out of the water by the new breweries, and their exciting beers. It’s these innovators who are giving craft beer a shot in the arm, and our culture is better for it. As new breweries gain popularity, the old ones will need to up their game if they want to stay competitive. No matter how many breweries we have, there is a finite number of craft beer drinkers and they have more choices than ever. This is why only breweries with excellent product are going to flourish in this market.
I have been a fan of craft beer my whole adult life. I have watch the craft beer industry grow exponentially, and feel we have more choices today than ever. It’s an exciting time to drink beer and I would like every brewing endeavor here in Indiana to be successful, but this is a tall order. Greenbush’s motto says “ Good Beer Wins,” and I default to that. Not every brewery that goes under will have had bad product, but there is so much that goes into keeping a vibrant brewery exciting and relevant. You play a part in it all when you support breweries, and we all play a part in keeping our beer culture going. I feel the growth is not over yet and that excites me. If you like having this much good beer to choose from, let’s hope I’m right!