Can the small brewery phenomenon sustain itself?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Allyn_Harvey, Jun 18, 2014.

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  1. yemenmocha

    yemenmocha Poo-Bah (2,552) Jun 18, 2002 Arizona

    Ok but that's a hypothetical. If we get to that situation, let's discuss it then. Right now, I'm fairly sure most of us pay about the same price for a local beer as we do from something across the country.

    Sometimes it's worse. When I'm in Florida, I look forward to the day when Cigar City beer is cheaper than Sierra Nevada that comes all the way from California.
     
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  2. jivex5k

    jivex5k Initiate (0) Apr 13, 2011 Florida

    It all depends on the atmosphere for me.
    If my local brewery has a cozy environment where I can talk about beer with the bartenders/brewers, it's going to get my business over a place that doesn't, even if they have superior beer.
    I'd rather have a mediocre local IPA and be able to relax than a Two Hearted from a cold, uncaring bartender.
    Now if the place has better beer AND an atmosphere I enjoy, then it's going to get my business regardless of what state the beer comes from.
     
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  3. LehighAce06

    LehighAce06 Champion (805) Jul 31, 2010 Pennsylvania
    Trader

    Simply put, I agree. I will clarify though, that I wasn't referring to local bottles vs national bottles, I've definitely come across months' old Dogfish Head in the same place as very fresh Bell's (just using examples, not picking on either) but I'm thinking more about local "brewpub" beer more so than nearby regional breweries.

    I will admit that it helps a lot that Philadelphia has a number of high quality brewpubs, beyond just Tired Hands; we also have Triumph, Nodding Head, Iron Hill, Forest & Main, Fegley's BrewWorks (who do distribute but I met them before this time), and many others. I suppose I am spoiled that 'quality' and 'local' are not mutually exclusive.
     
  4. HRamz3

    HRamz3 Initiate (0) Feb 9, 2010 Pitcairn


    It's seems more of an illinformed consumer issue. Almost an inverse of the situation where diners will choose a nationally known chain restuarant over a superior local, simply based on the name recognition.
     
  5. gcamparone

    gcamparone Poo-Bah (1,912) Dec 6, 2011 Rhode Island
    Society Trader

    As long as they continue brewing sours and barrel aged stouts.
     
  6. yemenmocha

    yemenmocha Poo-Bah (2,552) Jun 18, 2002 Arizona

    Exactly the opposite for me. Though, I see your needs. I just go to other sorts of places for the relaxing and such, and I drink something other than beer.

    Yes sir, you're spoiled. Some of us have few outstanding local breweries, with a lot of mediocre to poor ones. Yet, beer bars have the best of what is available regionally, nationally, and imported. It's a tougher dilemma then.

    Well said. That accounts for many. But I know a lot of folks who concede the inferiority but act more on their higher "values" regarding their support for local business. Also, many don't really care as much for a better/best tasting beer as long as the local one is a certain degree of satisfactory.
     
  7. LehighAce06

    LehighAce06 Champion (805) Jul 31, 2010 Pennsylvania
    Trader

    At least I know (and appreciate) how spoiled I am :slight_smile: It took me nearly 10 years of being a beer nerd before I felt any need to look outside my local breweries/distribution for more good beer (ie by trade)...

    edit: If you're ever in the area, I'd be happy to buy you a pint of what has made me so spoiled.
     
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  8. bubseymour

    bubseymour Poo-Bah (2,521) Oct 30, 2010 Maryland
    Trader

    Ok. I'm not up on laws clearly, but my point is local mediocre beer won't really win out in the long term if it is competing with the magnitude of beer distributed into most areas of the US because there will always be numerous better beers on the store shelves and bar taps at nearly equal price. Local beers survive only on the excitement to try by local community only in the begining when its fresh and new but it will only flourish over the long haul on better quality, better price, easily accessable over competition.

    When a new restaurant opens in a town, everyone will go to check it out and it will seem like a boom at first regardless of the quality of the food, service etc. It won't last long though if they aren't hitting the mark in enough of the reasons people dine out though. Local beer is pretty much the same thing IMO.
     
  9. spoony

    spoony Poo-Bah (2,160) Aug 1, 2012 Colorado
    Society

    I agree that taste of the product should, for the most part, drive whether a brewery succeeds.

    Yet, for me and a lot of other hippies and hipsters (and yuppies and trend-followers), beer drinking is about more than just taste. It sounds cheesy, but drinking beer is partly about building a connection with the brewers by talking with them at the bar in the tasting room. Sometimes it is about driving by the fields on the way to work where the farmers grow the ingredients that go into the beer I drink and feeling like, "Hey, I know where that barley goes." Not to mention a desire to avoid environmental and economic problems that go with mass distribution.

    Silly stuff like that sells beer.

    Oh, and price. Price sells beer.

    Thus, even if they don't make Pliny or Heady or KBS, I think it is awesome that small brewers can compete in the market on something aside from taste, even if they have to rely on something intangible* like being a good guy that employs a couple of dirtbag brewers in my neighborhood.

    *Like taste is tangible, anyway.
     
  10. yemenmocha

    yemenmocha Poo-Bah (2,552) Jun 18, 2002 Arizona

    Hey, if you actually, consistently avoid environmental and economic problems with your purchases across the board then good for you. But if not, and if it's rather self-selectively beer that you do this, then you have to expect that maybe others might be a little annoyed by your approach here. And if local brewers sold their bottles cheaper than regional "imports", then I'd give you several high-fives on price, but often that price issue isn't there. Somehow economies of scale work their magic, even with evil shipping costs and carbon footprints, and SN Torpedo is like 50% cheaper than a local DIPA at the bottle store. And it's the norm.

    Regarding taste, much of this discussion exists with taste being on the same side. So, for example, many still prefer to financially support the local even if they agree, on taste, that the regional import is superior. Buy local, support local, peace. But that's just not me.
     
  11. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (2,603) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Trader

    I think the course of this thread has pointed out why local beer is certain to succeed, perhaps to the degree it has in UK. It is both fresher on average than distro beer and never as stale, it supports local economies more directly, the experience of drinking it with the folks who make it is highly enjoyable, in most markets it is of a quality that is near to as good as the best distro beer, and in many areas, such as mine, consistently better than what is distro, and it appeals to those who are aware and concerned of the amount of pollution caused by transporting beer long distances. Price wise it can vary significantly in comparison to distro beer, but it is usually the same or lower in price.

    Locally to me I have Crossroads, Keegan Ales, Brewery at Bacchus, Yard owl, Mill House, Plan Bee, Peekskill, Rushing Duck, and Captain Lawrence. Hopefully soon everyone in this country will be able to enjoy the same local embarrassment of riches as do we here in NY Mid Hudson Valley.
     
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  12. MostlyNorwegian

    MostlyNorwegian Zealot (528) Feb 5, 2013 Illinois

    NO. This could get into a very interesting discussion if we allow some of our countries history and fixation with just what you are implying with your american romantic notion of what's good about this one beer means that it should be everywhere. What is best anyways? It's such a 14k word when what we're looking for is something with more meat on its bones. I refuse to think that just because a beer is good, and rivals the best of whatever is coming out of the older generation that came from the micro brewery days who are now the big dogs that it needs to be everywhere. In that, I'm curious to see what kind of shakeout occurs with the breweries that are running wild with expansion. That's kind of been the ungluing of a lot of other industries who went that path and decided they too should be everywhere and for everybody.
    It's a middling process to be everywhere for everybody. And we're at a great point where not every brewery needs to brew a muscular American IPA with its regional attachment as part of their regular brew schedule. We get the IPA, Zymurgy about fell out of their chairs fawning over them with the latest 12 best beers list. So, honestly, that indicates there will be a few of the breweries coming up that have no intention to brew one because in the larger scheme of things there's an even bigger market of people who probably will never get into them, and will drink the absolute shit out of sub 6% sessionable pick a style and get into the other strange historical styles that mass industrialized and this banal democratization of the one beer distributed to and for everybody beer very nearly rubbed out.
    The small brewery (sub 5k bbl a year) thing is not going to go away and world class beer that you simply cannot find outside of a small area because the brewery decided they don't care about their beer being everywhere. There's a good enough market at home and more importantly; they can control its quality and freshness in a way that only the largest breweries can and distributing beer when your small.
    I think that's where the historical subnote that slow food and craft beer find similar roots is going to be the important thing here because when you get into those pockets, you are becoming exclusively about the local and your region and getting into being small because you are able to maintain contact which means you can maintain control of your product. That facetime or the long winded phonecalls with who is growing your this, and rearing your that and that space and time in between where it leaves them and it meets your kitchen or brewdeck is getting to become very valuable.
    Plus, the money bit. Distributing outside of your own market is an enormous drain on resources because you need to have all these other moving parts, and then filing for all the related applications, etc and getting someone you can trust with your product to distribute you in the first place and won't lose you in the shuffle when all you can send them is a few sixers of mixed product, or a half a pallet of cans a week when they have breweries who regularly fill trucks daily.
     
  13. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (1,939) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
    Trader

    Wow there's competition in_________ business, I'm shocked. Competition forces quality and people will vote from their wallet, average beers and brewers will be pushed to the back of the line. Make great beer, in a nice place, serve good food and you'll pack the place consistently. Ever look at a yellow pages section and see how many attorneys are listed, thousands in a small area. If your good you get referrals, if you suck you won't, there's always competition.
     
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  14. yemenmocha

    yemenmocha Poo-Bah (2,552) Jun 18, 2002 Arizona

    Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I'm seeing this as something with varying degrees across a spectrum, where on the one hand you would have what you warn against which is domination by a select few. I don't think we're anywhere near that. And in fact I'd argue we're sadly at the other end of the spectrum where there are just so many gosh darn little breweries - many of which are just not very good. There just isn't enough weeding out of the mediocre stuff yet, and I don't think there's anywhere near enough spreading of the better beers regionally and nationally, and I don't think enough of the consumer base is aware of differences from mediocre to good to better, etc. Too many are riding on the sentiments of buyers such as having to try everything new, or supporting local because it is local.

    If things swing to the other end of the spectrum and the mediocre places actually start closing down and better breweries have more of a national presence, then I think your worry will be something to be concerned about. For now, there's too much in the other direction that is enabling so many small, not so good places to open, stay open, and even thrive in some underserved markets.
     
  15. yemenmocha

    yemenmocha Poo-Bah (2,552) Jun 18, 2002 Arizona

    Yes, but I think there are some mitigating factors that are not allowing competition to work its magic as much as it could. The local places have the "buy local!" religion on their side and it's hard to overcome, even if the local places aren't making any great beers. Superiority of taste isn't as important to some people, and they might prefer a location, atmosphere, convenience of location, food, etc. You also have to consider the varying beer appreciation aspects of a more mainstream consumer base that we have now - will most, many, or only a few really think that Allagash Wit is any better than Old World Wit?
     
  16. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (1,939) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
    Trader

    I try and stay local when I can, such as NoDa Hop Drop and Roll, Foothills Jade, Olde Hickory stuff, Olde Mecklenberg, but that's about it, I usually buy what I like best and its just as likely to be Two Hearted Ale. I won't buy mediocre beer just because it's here, too many other great offerings to do that. I'm hoping with the possibility of Stone coming to Greensboro, and companies relocating into Western NC everyone's game is raised. I love Asheville, and before Wicked Weed hit it was a cool bar town vs a great beer town, most offerings are ok, but nothing more. NoDa is killing it with its IPA's, why buy anyone else's local offerings, none are as good except Foothills. Come to play or you get left in the dust.
     
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  17. DrinktotheDead

    DrinktotheDead Initiate (0) Feb 11, 2014 Michigan

    I've heard rumblings about a hop shortage in 2 years due to all the market expansion. That alone (if true) will thin the herd. And raise prices, which will....
     
  18. BEERchitect

    BEERchitect Poo-Bah (10,442) Feb 9, 2005 Kentucky

    I think it depends on how dedicated and disciplined that brewers and brewery owners remain over time. The small beer industry will hit peaks and valleys. Right now its easy to be optimistic, but what happens when uncertainty arises? It has happened to craft beer and it will happen again. But I'm not going to worry about saturation or market analysis until small beer numbers begin to rival those of small wine. Until then, I think we're safe, ...if we want to be.
     
  19. hopfenunmaltz

    hopfenunmaltz Meyvn (1,465) Jun 8, 2005 Michigan

    There are close to 3000 breweries, and that number will be achieved in July. 1700 in planning, but not all of those will open, others will doing up to take the place of those that falter.

    Hop growers can stay ahead of the curve if they have contracts. After the last shortage there were 40,000 acres strung. Then the total quickly fell back to 30,000 acres when prices fell. There were many fields laying fallow under the trellis systems when I drove through the Yakima Valley in 2012. The proprietary hops will be tightly controlled, so no glut of those.
     
  20. Mark

    Mark Initiate (0) Jun 18, 2001 California

    Even though I know it's improved, I've always considered L.A. a beer wasteland.
     
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  21. charlzm

    charlzm Poo-Bah (2,151) Sep 3, 2007 California

    Like I said, plenty of room to improve/expand. Remember, all of North America was a beer wasteland at one time...
     
  22. puboflyons

    puboflyons Poo-Bah (4,921) Jul 26, 2008 New Hampshire

    I love seeing craft beers showing up everywhere even in some local convenience store, which used to be about 95% BMC with occasional imports. The concern I have is over-saturation. I go to a few stores that sell crafts but don't necessarily specialize in it and I see dust collecting on a few bottles of the lesser known ones. Here in NH, some stores knock the prices down 10-20% to move out the past season and near expiration date beers. For example I see winter ales for rock bottom prices around here.
     
  23. rlcoffey

    rlcoffey Initiate (0) Apr 20, 2004 Kentucky

    And yet, many states have tax "credits" for in state brews. The excise tax in KY, for example, is 50% refundable for beers brewed in the state of KY. There are ways around it. It seems legally questionable to me, but it survives.
     
  24. theCoder

    theCoder Aspirant (232) Oct 24, 2011 Minnesota

    I think the bigger worry is raw materials. You can only grow so much grain and hops and both take up a large amount of space to do so that's the bigger worry I feel.
     
  25. DWheeler379

    DWheeler379 Initiate (194) Jun 15, 2012 Colorado

    I'm interested to see what the average quality production breweries do. Those with a strong local following and crowded, loyal taproom will succeed, if the beer is good.

    I see stuff wasting away on shelves- those with no buzz or following that reach into markets it has no name cache in. That model will fail, and soon. Finch's is a good example. There are many others. I hope bottle shops are able to recognize that and have the ability to tell distributors enough of that brewery or beer - it isn't moving. Then the brewery will figure it out - no re-orders, bad feedback from the distributor. This will help weed out the average and naive breweries.

    There is plenty of room and craft growth for the good local brewery and large and regional ones to succeed. But there's too much choice at times and that affects the freshness, particularly of the most popular style - IPAs.
     
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