Welcome to February.
Now that you’ve stopped caring about your resolutions to drink less beer, get more exercise, and possibly stop swearing—it’s time to get down to business for 2016.
We’re at a turning point in the world of craft beer. Craft beer can no longer coast by only for being the cool new kid, like in your sixth grade class. The beer industry has grown up mightily, built a family and expanded. While previous fights were for shelf space, now the main battle is for relevance.
This past year, we have seen many of the great craft breweries fall to acquisitions and mergers. Corona, Heineken, Budweiser and Coors have all made concerted efforts to swallow up some of the market share held by craft beer.
After Elysian sold to AB-Inbev, the dominoes continued to tumble in Bud’s direction. Golden Road followed Elysian in September and in December, our friends at PorchDrinking broke the news that Breckenridge Brewing sold out to Big Bad Bud as well. No price has been set for Breck’s wares, but Constellation Brands (Corona, Modelo) gobbled up Ballast Point for a cool billion, so there’s some precedent. Yes that’s billion with a “B.”
Now, among the major acquisition transactions that happened this year, there were quite a few positive moves. Left Hand and Odell joined the ranks of New Belgium and Deschutes, moving their companies to an employee owned model. Firestone Walker joined Ommegang and Boulevard as part of the Duvel Moortgat portfolio, which didn’t freak people out too much.
Alright, that’s enough doom and gloom. What can local breweries do to make sure they remain relevant in 2016? What can they do to help elevate Colorado Springs as a beer destination?
1: Make good beer. Actually, make great beer.
Seems simple enough, right? I’ll even risk a Field of Dreams reference: If you brew it, they will come.
Do bingo nights, trivia quizzes and live music help to make good beer? Honestly, no. Good brewing practices make good beer. While those events will help get people in the doors, your beer is what will keep them in their seats. Remember, your beer is why you got into this business in the first place. No, it’s definitely not a “get-rich-quick” scheme. It’s hard work, long hours, and a lot of sweat and tears. But I’m fairly sure if you make great beer, you can even insult the town you live in and they’ll continue buying it. There’s a precedent there.
Master your beer, perfect your beer. Make great beer. I can’t hammer that in enough.
2: Have pride in your product. This applies to mistakes, accidents and even just normal occurrences.
If something doesn’t turn out the way you intended, don’t just slap a new sticker on it and push it out the door—analyze it and fix it. If you’re doing barrel-aging and things go sour, don’t pretend that’s what you intended (consumers can tell when it’s not). And, if I call you on it, don’t just write me off behind my back, I’m not the only one who is noticing. In many cases, the beer that results will not be up to the quality of your other brews and could hurt your reputation.
“It is the responsibility of every brewer to create a beer that meets consumer expectations in a safe, traceable and repeatable manner” – Jason Perkins of Allagash Brewing Company and Brewers Association quality subcommittee chair.
3: Dump bad batches. This is the biggie.
I know this seems counter-intuitive, but if something didn’t end up the way you wanted, dump it. Every brewer has served something they weren’t totally proud of, but don’t make that your normal operating procedure. I implore you to dump your bad batches. In a highly volatile industry like beer, a new place could open up right around the corner, so always put your best foot forward.
Why dump batches if you could just sell them as something different? Well, considering you didn’t plan the beer that way, you may be trying to force it into a category. Beer consumers are getting smarter and smarter by the day, so if you try to pass something by them, you may dump your reputation instead. I realize there’s money in the banana stand, but the money you spent on a bad batch is minor compared to what it could cost you down the road.
If you’re making good beer already and every batch turns out just the way you want, then ignore what I’ve said above, but if there’s ever that random occurrence where the glycol may have been on the fritz or you got some unwanted bugs in your barrels and your beer tastes like it, dump the batch. Your customers will thank you, and you can even turn it into a social media event like this: So if you glean one thing out of this post, be it that our local breweries need to focus on making great beer. If they do, everyone will benefit! Quality and consistency are the key. It’s going to be a great 2016. Cheers!