I drank beer back in the day when the only decision was Bud or Miller. Then I discovered wine, and beer became only an occasional thirst quencher. Then craft beer came along and beer became interesting again. Artisan, local producers. Fierce arguments over purity and authenticity. Total dedication to craft. Insurgent brewers railing against Big Beer. There was a lot there for a wine lover to like.
But my interest in it again waned—to many IPA’s, too little differentiation, nothing to hold my interest.
This article in Imbibe Magazine explains what’s going on in the beer industry today, and it’s not a pretty sight. No wonder I lost interest.
Angry rhetoric has since faded like foam on an hour-old beer. Where lines were once drawn in the sand, crossed at peril to a brewery’s reputation, the sand’s now been shoveled into a snow globe and shaken willy-nilly. Forget tradition. Brewers are serving fruited goses through slushy machines and packing imperial stouts with peanut butter cups, as well as taking tea and seltzer on a hard turn.
Ownership lines are also blurring. In an era of heightened competition, with more than 7,000 breweries in America and climbing, independent breweries are teaming up to better weather the economic storm. Victory, Southern Tier and Sixpoint now comprise Artisanal Brewing Ventures, while in May, The Boston Beer Company—the makers of Samuel Adams beer—merged with Dogfish Head in a $300-million deal. It’s tempting to deem this a new beer landscape, but that’s too mild. A cultural and economic earthquake is rattling the industry’s foundation, with no certainty of how things will settle, or crumble beyond recognition.
“Teaming up to better weather the economic storm” is a polite way of saying industry consolidation. Big brewers swallowing up the little guy; the little guy trying to become a big guy so they can swallow up the little guys that are left.
As the article points out, there never was much of a commitment to localism on the part of the beer consumer. There is a good reason for that. Unlike wine, location makes little difference in beer production. It makes little difference where you get your hops or grains as long as the quality is there. Aside from the moral imperative to support your local business, there isn’t much of an argument for beer localism.
And it’s no longer about making good beer—it’s about finding a gimmick.
Breweries are entering a permissive era that’s formally blessed by the Brewers Association, which last year eliminated the requirement that a brewery’s production be mainly beer. Most prominently, boozy sparkling water has bubbled up, headlined by Boston Beer’s Truly Hard Seltzer….Branching beyond beer lets breweries flex their muscles, utilizing infrastructure and fermentation know-how to fashion newfangled beverages. …Golden Road now offers the Spiked Agua Fresca in flavors such as cucumber-lime, while 10 Barrel makes canned cocktails and the LQD Creative Liquids line, including green tea and coconut water gone hard.…It behooves breweries to create compelling experiential draws, which brings this story to the slushy machine. Breweries from Boston’s Trillium to Los Angeles Ale Works have loaded the churning contraptions with fruity sour beers and more, served frozen and sometimes topped with tiny umbrellas. “We’ve had people come in that don’t drink beer and have really gravitated toward the slushies,” …
No thanks. These are desperation moves, flailing like a fish out of water. And it will happen to wine if industry consolidation continues. Once you lose what makes you distinctive, it’s a race to the bottom.