After one full official day of GABF 2015 I already feel a little worn around the edges. Being somewhat impatient and mildly agoraphobic doesn’t lend itself well to attending festivals full of drunk people, but what’s a little discomfort when it comes to trying beer from diverse parts of the US you might not otherwise visit?
Although I will probably try to condense my GABF experiences into a summary of some sort at a later date, today I am thinking more about some of the trends I see among the growing craft beer crazed people now caught up in the “scene”. One recurring topic making the rounds in social media and even legitimate publishing circles involves the specter of corporate takeover. From Goose Island several years ago to Elysian, 10 Barrel, Firestone Walker and now Golden Road, there are huge segments of the beer community running scared. How can the owners of these breweries “sell-out”? What will happen to “craft beer” when the big guys buy up all of these smaller companies? All of the lamenting strikes a bit of a nerve to be honest because any objective outsider not wrapped up in sentimental idealism knows the very simple precept that answers all of the questions surrounding these deals – breweries are businesses. What do we call people that own breweries that aren’t profit motivated? Homebrewers! You might have an emotional attachment to a commercial brewery and so might the owners, but anyone that starts a business wants to make a profit and whether they think about it early or sometime down the road, every business owner eventually comes up with an exit strategy, a scenario in which they get out of the business or relinquish a part of it to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In some cases their new partnerships also allows their brand to expand well beyond their original target region which probably has its own appeal. Breweries are manufacturers, often making the same products over and over and over again. The huge number of people whining on Facebook about corporate takeovers indicates there are a lot of “craft enthusiasts” out there that know little about owning a business much less a manufacturing enterprise. Don’t be surprised when established regional breweries do something unexpected, that’s how business works. When St Arnold says they will never sell outside of Texas and then do so several years later as their capacity grows, or when New Glarus says the same thing about staying only in Wisconsin and then inks a deal to move into Illinois…it’s not personal, it’s business and growth often requires making changes. At the moment the BA says new breweries in the US have topped the 4,000 mark and only a small fraction are now corporate owned. The current rate of brewery growth is unprecedented, so there is no need to worry about InBev gobbling up a few established regional brands. I still believe we are on the cusp of saturation in some markets which will limit the growth of distribution oriented breweries, although there will always be exceptions among those with a niche or an established presence in some markets. Otherwise I think the next decade will usher in the rise of the brewpubs which subsist mainly on the business from local patrons. If Portland and Denver are rough guides, this is the way we are heading in my humble opinion. Cheers from GABF!