Sam Calagione, Incoming Chairman of the Board of Directors, Brewers Association

Last Call by | Feb 2012 | Issue #61

Photo by Taylor Seidler

In November, fellow Brewers Association members elected Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, to be the board’s next chairman, a role he steps into this February. Calagione has been on the board since before it was even called the Brewers Association, including a term as vice chair, and knows he’s got his work cut out for him. On a recent visit to the Dogfish Head brewpub, the BeerAdvocate team got to talk shop with Calagione. The consensus? “Ask not what beer can do for you, but what you can do for beer.”

What challenges will craft brewing face in the years to come?
The biggest thing I think is great market pressure on the beer category in general. … Overall beer consumption is actually losing market share to both wine and spirits. … I want to see everybody do well in beer, but I have great concerns that the large breweries, while they make wonderful beer, at times I think it can be confusing from the consumers’ perspective on the beers that they make. …

That’s one of our concerns. The other is if you look back, say, 30 years ago—small is relative. Recently, the craft brewers, we have a federal excise tax that we’re … getting traction on and part of it is to get a reduction in our tax so that we can use that money to create more jobs and stay viable in a competitive marketplace. And we’ve chosen the number of 6 million to represent our new definition of “craft brewery”—it was 2, it’s now 6—and some folks have interpreted that as … it’s being done for Sam Adams, only because they’re the only member that’s at that 2 million barrel threshold. But … it’s more about preserving our opportunity to stay viable in the future. By that, I mean 30 years ago, the largest brewery in America had something around 25-percent market share, let’s say, and craft breweries were tiny, barely existing … flash-forward to today: The largest single brewery has almost half, 48-percent market share. So the definition of “big” has certainly changed as all this consolidating globally has happened. And if you look at the current trajectory of breweries like New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, within the next 20 years, let’s say 10 years maybe, they’re gonna be facing that 2 million barrel threshold. Now, would somebody say Ken Grossman or Kim Jordan are no longer craft brewers if their breweries get over that threshold? I doubt it. So this gives us the opportunity to, in front a bunch of members facing that, to just deal with it all at once.

Is there something you can talk about that you’re actively working on to shift direction toward small brewers?
We just recently formed a brewpub-specific committee … And then we’re working hard at the Craft Brewers Conference to have more sessions devoted to brewpubs and smaller brewery content. …

Another big opportunity for us, and I know some of this is happening in Massachusetts right now, is really looking at franchise law reform. If you look at the history of these franchise laws, they really got into place to protect the small, independent, family-owned beer distributorships. … But now those franchise laws unfortunately are often used to keep tiny breweries locked up with a distributor. … So what we’re really looking at is to say every state can set their own level … and we’re not mandating that it has to be how we define a craft brewery at the Brewers Association at 6 million barrels, but figure out a number that works in your state to allow smaller brewers to move if they’re not getting the attention to sell beer in the distributor that they’re in.