An ancient curse admonishes “may you get everything your heart desires.” Remember that in the months to come. Lets face it how special will that next limited release beer be when you are inundated with an exponentially larger number of choices. Often its the lure of something difficult to get that makes it so special and sought after in the first place. Will crappy Cuban cigars be worth as much once the US embargo ends? I was reminded of that when Alaskan Brewery launched in the Texas market making whatever Alaskan beer I had in my coolers something not quite as special anymore. According to the Brewers Association we now have more breweries operating than we had before prohibition (in fact more than have ever existed in the US) and this means we are in uncharted territory.
In my secular work I am constantly examining supply and demand as it applies to commodities and the trends within both the US market as well as Texas in particular suggest a big foamy bubble is forming. Let me follow that by saying I haven’t had time to look into any recent statistics beyond the overall growth listed by the Brewers Association and some quick stats from the breweries listed on the right, but simple observation of what is happening at local bars should be an indication of what’s to come. Take a look around next time and see if you can spot the trends. Texas now has around 35 microbreweries (about 20 have started in the last two years) and about 35 brewpubs, we will shortly add another 5 or 6 micros and probably 2 or 3 brewpubs. Of those 12 micros and 8 brewpubs are located in the Austin area.
The interesting point is that of the 35 or so microbreweries in Texas more than half are less than two years old. At beer bars with huge tap selections like the Flying Saucer and the Gingerman local selections slowly replaced out of state options as new Texas micro breweries started up. At this time local microbreweries continue to report that they have a hard time keeping up with demand and that trend might continue for another year. Still, if you carefully examine the tap lineup at area bars in Austin you find that real estate dedicated to Texas beers is limited. It will be hard to get those taverns selling cider to a specific clientele to drop it in favor of beer. Similarly, it’s doubtful those selling any number of light beers or the ubiquitous Guinness will be persuaded to give up those taps for another local craft. As new high quality established brands like Alaskan enter Texas they too will be given tap space, and with labeling laws now less restrictive it seems inevitable that more high quality US beer will make its way here (Ballast Point is coming). At one local beer bar I counted 29 taps dedicated to Texas micro breweries several months ago. At the time they had multiple taps representing several styles made by one company, for instance two or three beers from Rahr or the same from Saint Arnolds. More recently the same 29 taps rarely include multiple beers from the same company as new Texas breweries are included to keep up with demand for the next big thing. So what does this mean? In my humble opinion, its great for consumers and not so great for starting microbreweries. Over time it’s logical to expect that those breweries with a “better” product (I use that term subjectively) should survive while those with more mediocre product will find their market share eroding. Remember every market is finite and Texas is a state that lives on light beer, only changing the tastes of the populace as a whole will ultimately create the additional space needed if current trends continue. Of course marketing and promotion can influence consumer choice, but I hope quality beer rather than large breasts remains the key factor in a brewery’s success.