In the US, our current state of craft beer was born from a thirst for more options, for more than what the big, dominating brewers had to offer. However, with more and more craft brewers moving beyond their core portfolios and venturing into seasonals, special releases, large formats, private labels, cans and distribution beyond their local areas, is it possible to have too many beer options?
The explosion of the craft beer movement has surely marked the demise of the session beer. While all craft beer connoisseurs can agree that BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors) beers are seriously lacking in the flavor department, neverless, people who consider them the entirety of American beer offerings usually choose one brand and stick with it.
With so many new beers being released by new and established breweries, this poses a problem for up-and-coming brewers. With stiff competition and constant hype from new seasonals and special releases, these brewers will have a hard time getting their foot in the door, let alone keeping it there. While variety and growth are leading to a wider beer audience, they may also be diminishing the number of brand-loyal customers. Frankly, from a consumer’s standpoint, there is no such thing as too many choices. However, it is the new brewers I am concerned for…
Having greater and greater beer options can pose problems for consumers, retailers and distributors. Niche markets such as craft beer can be saturated with a product relative to its consumer base.
On the retail front, a growing selection of beers with roughly the same consumer base means that more product expires on the shelves—a problem with which consumers are familiar. Breweries often insist on distributors offering a portfolio of their beers, many of which are far from award winning. This results in a greater percentage of mediocre beers on the shelf at the retailer.
Saturation in a market may also result in a retailer’s decision to order smaller quantities of each beer, thereby leading to higher prices per unit from the distributors, and at some point, a smaller volume of sales can lead to a brewery leaving a given state altogether (as it happened here in Arizona with Allagash).
In the world of macro lagers, redundancy has become the norm. Not only do they continually release new recipes that are undetectably different from the last, they have an extraordinary range of packaging. For the most part, this stems from an endless battle of one-upmanship.
The craft world is supposed to be free of this one-upmanship, and for the most part, it is. However, recently I have noticed a few instances where craft beer is not totally innocent of this overly competitive spirit. In most of these cases, the competition hasn’t spread into useless packaging lines, but with the resurgence of the can, I fear it might get to that.
In many cases, I understand and support craft beer companies offering a few different packages. Each medium has its pros and cons. But I feel that issues can arise when breweries start putting the same beer in two or even three different packages. That type of behavior is dangerously close to being “macro.” ■