|Posted on July 15, 2016 at 1:50 AM|
These craft brew times, they are a’ changing; there’s no question about it. Nimble breweries keeping their ears to the ground while evolving with these times will thrive. Those who may have found some moderate success in the past yet refuse to alter their tried-and-true traditional models may find themselves stalling into a staunch space of irrelevance.
The biggest change in the scene that has resulted from the increase in local breweries is the excitement and pride expressed and displayed by the consumer of being tied to a particular community. Each new brewery that pops up offers the consumer a snapshot of a sense of place, an opportunity to support a locally homegrown business, and an increased sense of kinship. If anything, people's palates are being given a chance to hyper-localize. Why buy beer from the opposite coast when the local brewery brews with rice grown within the state or foraged blackberries a local farmer has dropped by? Why buy beer from 2000 miles away when one can support the local economy by purchasing a growler from a brewery down the street? Other changes include increased camaraderie between the local brewers in creating collaborative beers, sharing of ingredients, and in banding together to get favorable legislation passed. We're no longer anomalies existing in isolation as places to get a beer; we're creating trends, bringing people together, and banding together to serve causes and raise funds for local non-profits. We're full-blown contributors and economic drivers within the smaller neighborhoods, and it's extremely rewarding and exciting to feel truly woven into the fabric of the community as a whole. Many people would believe that increased numbers of breweries adds competition, and in a sense, it does. It forces us to continually put out better products, to keep quality as a top priority. Creating mediocre beer just won't cut it anymore if one wants to keep its doors open. That’s a good thing. At the same time, it forces us to have more insightful and honest conversations about ourselves and our future direction. The increase in local breweries is guiding us to evolve into a beacon for the populace, and we're grateful for that.
This influx of breweries over the past five years has also placed additional strain on the wholesalers in managing a larger portfolio of SKUs resulting from the new brands they have picked up. It has forced numerous wholesalers to implement more robust inventory management systems and communication protocol to keep the lines open between wholesaler and supplier. It has forced breweries to become more effective in providing the types of beer the wholesaler requests just-in-time at the peril of losing tap handles or shelf space. Breweries have been forced to look inwards to their own operational infrastructure and reporting systems to ensure they can supply, grow, and compete via sustainable cash management practices and pricing that fits their own respective business models. The challenge each brewery is now facing is discovering and exploiting their own differentiating factor in an authentic manner, whether through packaging, customer experience, the product itself, or through community partnerships. Think of how the northeastern United States has developed its own distinct hazy, juicy IPA style, how a brewery in the Pacific Northwest started its own space program, how a Colorado brewery has intertwined music with mountain biking, and how several breweries are transitioning to a structure that is entirely employee-owned. The call now comes to us in our own respective regions, and we need to ask ourselves what sort of mark will we leave on our own soils? How do we want the rest of the country to remember our breweries?
The craft beer industry as a whole is a celebration of independence and a testament to every individual who contributes in some shape or form to the craft beer movement. It is a reminder that we should always dream big though we may be small. We are the pioneers of change in the beer industry, and it is time for us to honor those who paved the way for us, as well as an opportunity to leave a legacy for others to follow. The craft beer movement embodies the quintessential essence of the independent American spirit, and I for one, am beyond excited to be a part of it. Let’s continue growing and evolving together.