Much like Chris Bruns, I’m not an economist or a fortune-teller. Unlike Chris, I have no statistics or links to offer. All I have are my years of experience in the craft beer industry. While my last article began with a mention of Andy Crouch’s GABF article in Beer Advocate, this is nothing more than a brief follow-up to Mr. Bruns’ excellent piece on oversaturation. I’ve drank with enough and spoke with the many who are truly trying to wrap their heads around the current state of the craft beer industry; and though Chris claims to be a non-expert, his article successfully touched on every important aspect of a very popular and hotly debated conversation.
While I make a living packaging beer, I often times feel like a stranger in my industry. Craft beer is growing at an unforgivable rate. Two years ago I was pumped to hear about the new brewery opening in Louisville.. or Fort Collins.. or Boulder. As it stands today, one can barely keep pace with the influx of new breweries that might – at first glance – seem to be an overabundance of a good thing. Luckily, people love drinking and they’ll pay substantial amounts of money for a can, bottle or pint of beer in the darkest of vaults or the brightest of beer gardens.
In my quest to recklessly drink and spend money, I often find myself traveling the streets of Denver with a few friends in search of unique eateries, the last remaining dive bars and any new up-and-coming breweries. The framework of our travels is built around the thrill of visiting new establishments: we drink Coors Original at the Kentucky Inn; we enjoy far too much Stout O))) at TRVE; we drunkenly, humbly devour slices of pizza at Slice Works; and we soak up every last ounce of Utica Club at Williams & Graham. At all stops we talk craft beer, but at no point do we discuss how oversaturated the bar scene is, or how bothered we are by the countless restaurants we’ve passed or patronized throughout the day
What works for these bars and restaurants should and does apply to breweries. Coloradans truly eat, sleep and breathe craft beer; we’ll stand by the great, partake in the good and weed out the weak – a survival of the fittest by means of passion and knowledge. It’s within that passionate Colorado mindset that I find my opinions differing just slightly from Chris’. On the basis of where we stand as geeks, Chris as a consumer and I as a producer, I feel the burden of promotion lays less on the geeks and far more on the breweries themselves.
With more breweries comes the greater likelihood of less-than-average beer, and though opinions differ, bad beer is bad beer. If you can convince your good buddy – the daily Bud Light drinker – to gather up the gusto to visit a craft brewery, the last thing in the world that person should be drinking is a diacetyl-laced IPA or an acetaldehyde-driven porter. Those new to the scene are no different from those who love and support craft beer – they want a product they can enjoy day after day, bar after bar, restaurant after restaurant, knowing it will always taste the same. Maybe the consumer doesn’t know what the fuck off-flavor they’re tasting, but they’ll normally know they don’t like it; and when craft breweries are charging five dollars a pint, they should do their very best to supply a world-class drinking experience for everyone who walks through their doors.
As the lines blur, as craft beer becomes a corner-to-corner regularity, people will begin to find the breweries they like and the ones they don’t, just as they’ve come to prefer one bar or restaurant over another. In keeping with a pledge to create craft beer – greater and more flavorful than any macro lager! – nano, micro and regional breweries should always be looking to create a product that could stand beside the very best beer the consumer’s ever had before. If craft breweries begin to feel over-important or complacent, ultimately losing sight of their true, self-imposed roles as beer ambassadors and brewers of fine ales and lagers, we’ll then, in the midst of our excess, find ourselves listless and oversaturated.