Too Much Beer, You Say? Pshaw!

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

Too much beer? PLENTY of time.

We interrupt today’s regularly scheduled blog post about the Beer Bloggers Conference ’13 for some breaking news. Splashed all over my newsfeed today is a report written by Ken Christensen in Crain’s New York Business sounding the alarm that there is over-saturation in the New York City craft beer market and the bubble is about to burst!

Quick, hide your kegs hide your BCS… craft beer is hitting a saturation point!

Whoa, there, Bessie! Let’s just take a little looksie, shall we, at the claims that portend such devastating news for local beer drinkers.

The article quotes Manhattan Beer’s Robert Mitchell, who harkens back to the 1990s shake-out of the craft beer industry, and claims “there’s clearly not enough room at the table…”

Interestingly, Ray Daniels, Founder of the Cicerone Certification Program, refuted this very thought a mere 24 hours ago at the BBC. During his keynote address, he said there were two main causes for the 90s contraction:

  1. Anheuser-Busch made a calculated stink about Sam Adams/Boston Beer not brewing in Boston, which caused a major PR fallout for craft brewers trying to present themselves as “the little local guy”;
  2. The beer sucked.

Daniels (not alone in this opinion) actually said the second issue was the real reason why craft beer in America blew up almost 20 years ago. No one wanted to take a chance on new beers, because the last new beer they had was terrible. The 2013 new beers are invariably high quality when it comes to craft beer that is distributed and marketed for off-site consumption (i.e. non-brewpub beer).

Which brings us to “saturation,” a point that Christensen seems to believe we’ve reached. He writes,

“(NYC craft brewers) need to find a place to sell their brew, too—and face competition from about 100 craft breweries in the rest of the state and 2,600 across the country, according to the Brewers Association.”

Those numbers do not hold up. In fact, the Brewers Association breaks down breweries by brewpub (i.e. only selling for onsite consumption, with a few growlers possibly walking out the door), microbreweries (which may well be self-distributing a handful of kegs each week to the neighborhood bars) and regional craft breweries. Only this latter group will profoundly impact the market saturation. In fact, from 2011 to 2012, the US saw only eight new regional craft breweries come online (while non-craft breweries barely changed, losing one brewery). The number of true nationwide breweries that make up Christensen’s 2,600 that will make an impact outside their immediate geographic region are a mere handful.

If you look at the largest number of “breweries,” you’ll find that from 2,416 existing breweries (all types as of March 2013) nationwide, 1,124—nearly half of all breweries in America—were brewpubs. Not only are these brewpubs not going to be major factors in the beer wars, their numbers are unlikely to change. The average life expectancy of any restaurant in this country is not particularly long. For every new brewpub that comes into existence, chances are overwhelming that another one will go out of business.

With regards to the 1,139 microbreweries that make up the other half of the extreme craft beer growth, a slow, steady business model that takes years to establish profitably is probably more likely to be the case than an overrun of the market. A prime example is Rockaway, which puts out 12 kegs a week on a two-barrel system. While Christenen quotes Ethan Long, his co-founding partner, Marcus Burnett, recently told me that the brewery is happy with their current rate of growth, and they have no immediate expansion plans; again, this microbrewer is satisfied with the street traffic and local restaurant scene.

Now let’s look at the numbers that came out from the Brewers Association today regarding drinking habits. “American craft beer dollar sales and volume were up 15 percent and 13 percent, respectively,” the BA announced. This despite the fact that overall beer sales are down, meaning more beer drinkers are switching to craft beer.

Graphic courtesy Brewers Association

Graphic courtesy Brewers Association

Finally, consider that per capita, New York State ranks 39th in the nation for breweries based on population. Our nearest neighbors rank 45th (New Jersey) and 33rd (Connecticut). We are nowhere near the capacity of Vermont (#1) or Colorado (#2).

And speaking of Colorado, has Crain’s New York Business looked at the economy of Denver recently? It’s booming, and it’s doing so under the leadership of a former brewer Governor! This country needs entrepreneurship. It needs jobs! Especially in NYC.

Anything that brings in more business opportunities to a city whose median household income (2010 census) is a mere $57,000 sounds good to this Bitch. And craft beer is creating those jobs, not just in breweries and pubs, but in advocacy and marketing and accessories (one can never have too many koozies!). Keep in mind that craft beer lobbyists and public beer advocates such as the New York City Brewers Guild and Patriot Craft Alliance didn’t exist back during the last craft beer growth spurt.

So, while I’m no glass-half-full Pollyanna, I embrace the “onslaught.” I say, there’s plenty of peeps in NYC to drink what all the new brewers have to offer. Just make sure it’s made with the best ingredients (preferably local when feasible), and I don’t think you’ll have any trouble at all selling your stock.

Hanging in Portland With the Beer Bloggers

20130725_220031For only the second time in my life, I find myself in Maine.

My first trip here was at least two lifetimes ago, like, back when my husband still loved me. We barely knew each other, but I “rescued” him from the demise of the Soviet Union. My sister was living somewhere in Maine, and it was a few days before the end of 1991. I remember little about the trip (without going in to the whirlwind of my Russian romance, it was a harrowing journey getting from Kazan by way of Moscow and Germany to JFK to Maine… all while not knowing if my intended would make it out of a country that was faIling apart). I was here for a couple of days and then crammed into the back seat of my parents’ car for a long journey back to their home.

I don’t think there was beer involved… and the Internet didn’t exist.

So here, in 2013, at the Beer Bloggers pre-conference, I will begin with a few observations.

  1. As with so many “writing” events these days, it’s hard to know the professionals from the amateurs to those who blog with a mission. I met Craig Hendry last night, one of those guys I didn’t know that I knew. I knew Craig was from Mississippi, and I joked we had him to thank for getting the recent homebrew law passed in one of the last states to proscribe homebrewing. Turns out, it wasn’t a joke! Craig is the guy!!! I had written about him when he was on Beer Sessions Radio a few months back. Craig admits that he’s no writer, but what he has accomplished in his home state goes far beyond recommending the next great IPA. That’s the power of a “free and open press.” It is a democratizing thing, and I’m embracing meeting people whose agenda may be different than mine vis a vis being a “beer blogger.”
  2. You might judge a book by its cover, but don’t judge a town by its bus depot. When I landed in Portland at the bus depot, I admit it: My first thought was, “What a dump.”The hotel we’re booked in is perfectly adequate (and by that, I mean, I’ve barely been in the room, and I’m forgoing a swim in their pool to write this!), but it’s conveniently situated next to the bus depot. I walked across a parking lot to get here. However, it’s far from what I had hoped considering I really did come for more than the beer and lobster (more on that shortly). Then we moved into the town, which is a quintessential old New England village: stone streets, old buildings beautifully kept, sea salt hanging in the air. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m currently reading Moby Dick with The Long Hard Book Club, but I wanted to linger here. Highest compliment I can pay? I’d like to come back for a week, tarry awhile, as they say.20130725_194719
  3. The sponsors know how to have a party! I hate to be blatant, and this is not an across the board reproach, but some people always want to look a gift horse in the mouth. When you attend an event such as this, the sponsors are key to bringing you here. They donate hundreds, even thousands, of dollars worth of product. I’ve done craft beer festivals that were underwritten by Corona/Modelo! I’ll toss back some skunk beer and say, thank you so very much. I don’t care that Cabot is in Vermont; the Cabot Annex team led by Candace Karu was gracious and welcoming. It was a perfect start for me (I got here late and missed the Allagash trip; my only regret thus far). I was doubly pleased to see all the cheeses carefully paired with Geary Brewing beers, because I really like Dave. Then—whoa!!!—I turned around and there was Dave! It made me happy to see him again, this time in his backyard instead of mine. And you know what? The London Porter paired with basil and tomato Cabot was excellent. As was the Sebago Brewing Citra Saaz Down paired with a lobster roll; the lobster brought out the hop notes while toning down the peachy-ness of the ale. Which leads me to this…
  4. I’m from Brooklyn, so I’m not drinking what you’re drinking. “I’m from Brooklyn” was a recurring theme for me last night. I approach beer from a metro/cosmopolitan point of view. When I’m out of the City, I want to drink one of two ways: something I cannot find in NYC (or online) and something local. I don’t want to drink your Goose Island, even if it’s the better, rarer stuff (a huge shout out to Patriot Craft Alliance for bringing in the GI and picking up the tab at The Thirsty Pig). I want to drink the Maine Beer Co.’s Peeper from a keg, fresh as it can be. I want to drink a local beer I never heard of, such as Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. And, yes, the Yakuza was the best (and my last) beer of the night! Try not to be a beer snob, and I’ll try not to remind you every other conversation that “I’m from Brooklyn!”
  5. Finally, Beer Peeps are the Best Peeps. Whatever our mission, and for whatever reason we are here together, drinking with like minds is the best. So, hat’s off to the organizers. Can’t wait to get down to Boston (I’ll be back, Portland!) and get into the meaty part of the conference.