For decades, the new breweries of the past 30 years have been driving industry growth and reviving the classic image of beer as a local product anchored in the identity of the owner. As such entities, the breweries have been sensitive to the desires of their patrons. Hundreds of breweries have opened up and millions of consumers have discovered the world of beer creativity, challenging breweries to greater discovery and innovation.
As with any consumer good, the maturation of the beer industry brings new challenges. Hundreds of new breweries are coming on line, with thousands of individuals staking their fortunes on the future of the new brewery movement. All because consumers are supporting it.
My master’s thesis revolved around small businesses in frontier Boulder, CO. At that time, Boulder had six breweries, which all vanished as the town grew. Today, Boulder—besides being the home of the Brewers Association, the industry trade organization—boasts an astounding 17 breweries.
And this is by no means unique. I’ve just come back from a whirlwind week at the annual Craft Brewers Conference (organized by the Brewers Association), where over 10,000 people attended seminars and exhibits.
There are several logical outcomes to this growth that place a lot of responsibility on the consumers’ shoulders. We—the consumers—propelled this growth, now we consumers need to manage it.
The dominant theme of the conference was beer quality. With such rapid growth, it is inevitable that some substandard beer will arrive at the pubs. When that happens, understanding what the possible problems in a beer are, and where they come from, is our task. Was there a defect in the fermentation? Not stored correctly? Out of date? Poorly cleaned draft lines?
We should learn how to recognize these problems and, helpfully, bring them to the retailer’s and brewer’s attention. There are many sources of information and education to help, such as the Cicerone program. Take being a beer lover to the next level. It’s our responsibility.
Inevitably, as the number of breweries and beers expands, there will be competition for shelf space and tap handles. There’s already some pushing and shoving as breweries jostle for valued access to you, the beer drinker. This leads some brewers to deeply discount the cost of their beer to the retailer. Make your desires heard. Help the retailers to become part of this renaissance. Keep them on their toes. Let them know you are looking for the best beers out there and not necessarily the least expensive.
Consumers created the demand for this world of exciting beers. Now we need to help keep it from hitting a wall. Get educated, get smart, and get engaged. Help retailers understand the value of quality, what a less-than-adequate beer tastes like, and that quality will always trump price.
This column appears in the July issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.