“Like shellfish… there will be a die off…”
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The Topic: Where Have All the New Breweries Gone?
Written by Ken Carman
Ken Carman is a BJCP judge; homebrewer since 1979, club member at Escambia Bay, Clarksville Carboys and Music City Homebrewers, who has been writing on beer-related topics, and interviewing professional brewers all over the east coast, for over 15 years.
Where have all the breweries gone
Long time passing
Where have all the breweries gone
Seems so long ago…
-apologies to the ghost of Pete Seeger
What I fear: it’s the year 2020 and there are a vast number of empty buildings where once there used to be breweries.
Couldn’t happen? Seriously, I don’t know the year: I just picked 2020 out of my creative muse, and I don’t know for how long. But sooner or later, like shellfish every spring on the Emerald Coast, there will be a die off.
I have been so happy as of late. I started homebrewing because, in the early 70s, I discovered the real world of beer doesn’t consist of just knock offs of German Pilsners with rice, or corn, as filler. I didn’t know the Rheinheitsgebot wasn’t written into law simply out of some innate German anal sense of purity. It was because the larger German breweries were trying to crush small breweries by mass producing, get this, brews with cheap adjuncts.
The Germans legislated against it. America embraced it. So most taps when I first started drinking beer basically had the same beer, with slight variations.
But now I see breweries: nanos, micros, popping up everywhere. I’ve seen a brewery/barn in New Hampshire, a brewery atop a Maine lake, in New York State, near the Mass border, there’s a 24X48 modular serving their own nano brews. In Mass itself there’s a mostly solar powered brewpub with hops growing all over parts of the exterior. Two new breweries between Panama City Beach and Destin, Florida are in an obscure industrial park midst endless Florida scrub bush. My own hometown has one, and it’s probably one of the most difficult areas I’ve ever known business-wise. There are weeks, even months, you can toss an asteroid down Main Street and hit nothing.
They’re pretty much everywhere; some approaching macro status to one barrel. I suspect there are even smaller ones.
Despite dire conditions politicians often over magnify during an election year, right now we live in grand times when it comes to craft beer, my friends.
I do understand that during economic downturns some establishments that sell alcohol thrive. I also understand that the authorities give breaks to the big guys and crack down on the small, like they do now. And during those times beer is pretty much brewed on the cheap, as often most easily defined by massive quantities brewed by mega beer. It also must be admitted that often these are luxury items. Small, one bourbon barreled batches of Chipotle Chocolate Baltic Porter parceled into $25 champagne bottles may sell well in good times, even in marginally bad times, but when economic times really go to hell, well most likely there goes the market for luxury items except for the very rich.
Oh, yes, there were the rich during the Great Depression, and some of the richest were scam artists, or those who could produce thousands of barrels of extremely cheap beer. And government often backs them up. That scenario is never far behind. Even without another Great Depression, pols, big brewers and distributors have every reason to work in their best interests when money is speech and corporations are “people.”
Bad times do not favor most small businesses, while those with lots of money to invest in serving needs on a wide basis can really rake in the cash.
As good as times are for craft beer now, as bad as it may seem to be mega brew, you may notice we have an upcoming possible monopoly: the InBev Bud/Coors/Miller monolith. And considering their past business practices you can pretty much guarantee those craft breweries they buy out will be either shut down, or start producing schlock. And those few indes that might survive will face pols with InBev buckaroos weighing down their pockets, eager to legislate them out of business, or force them to sell.
One wonders if they’ll leave homebrewers alone. Doubtful, IMO. Legislators and big brew have already partnered to harass homebrew clubs who serve their beer for free at festivals. I was harassed for offering beer samples for free, beer I had paid taxes on, or was homebrew, anywhere near a hotel and a restaurant. So I had to do it at my place. You see doing beer sampling of beer I owned, had paid taxes on, was supposedly considered a “beer festival.”
Then we have the obvious fact we have so many people running businesses now who make wonderful beer, who may be a bit like Studebaker. Stude made wonderful cars, but their bookkeeping sucked, so much so they begged a judge to let them stay in business just to pay off debts during the Great Depression. At the same time we had an ex-GM exec who became a Kennedy appointee who took away Studebaker’s military contracts, and when they vended out to a GM facility they fabricated all the Avanti body parts wrong. This was, in comparison, a huge corporation. Imagine how many small brewers there are out there who make great beer but are crappy when it comes to bookwork? How many InBev might get pols and corporate connected appointees to screw over?
&# I ran a very simple business for about 30 years. It’s an incredible balancing act, even when you’re your only employee. Add add in employees, plus bigger incoming, and the complexity becomes exponential.
I hate providing a downer here, but my 2020 scenario could happen, to a certain: maybe lesser, extent. I’d bet good money “will happen.”
Well, obviously, keep patronizing the locals as much as you can. Get friends to stop by and buy. But also remember there always has been some ebb and flow to this. In the 80s I started stopping by some of the first east coast versions of micro. They are pretty much all gone. And that wasn’t the first and only “ebb.”
I sincerely feel we are more than a bit bloated right now. Eventually there will be an “ebb.” With our support it will be just an “ebb,” not one hell of a crash. And for us homebrewers, remember this, even during prohibition there were those selling malt extract marked, “Not to be used to make beer.”
I’m guessing you’ll know what to do.
Brew Biz : Werts and All,` is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing, and commenting on, beer-related topics including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the brew business, and discussions regarding all things beer.
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