If you are a local craft beer fan like we are, you will want to get a copy of Locally Brewed by Anna Blessing. It’s an inside look at the breweries around the country that are part of the largest beverage trend. Craft Beer is more popular and follows the food trend for locally grown. We were lucky enough to chat with the author to get her perspective on the local trend.
TDS: Anna, what has happened to create the huge rise in the craft beer movement across the country?
Anna: I think there are several factors. There were a ton of local taprooms and breweries pre- Prohibition, and we have just recently surpassed the number of breweries there were then. It seems to be in our national makeup to want to make and drink beer, although it’s certainly taken awhile to get back to where we were before Prohibition.
The local food movement is certainly another influencer. As chefs and locally focused restaurants have gained spotlight and attention, so have their beer lists, which are increasingly put together with the local beer makers in mind.
I think that the current economy has shaped a lot of what is happening. The enterprise of opening a brewery is one that can be done on a shoe-string budget, without major overhead costs. It’s easy to start small and grow slowly. Read the stories in my book and you will see so many brewers who started out on such a small scale you would never imagine it, standing amid the rows of massive shiny stainless steel fermenters and polished copper brewhouses. Larry Bell started brewing beer in a 15-gallon stock pot.
Most significantly, perhaps, is a simple fact. The beer that is being made continues to improve in quality and diversity. As more people become exposed to it, the growth continues. Have you ever met someone that was into craft beer and then went back to macro brews? I haven’t.
The fact that craft breweries support the local economy, strengthen community and camaraderie, and make a broad range of products that appeal to the wide population, well, my guess is as long as producers continue to make good beer, this is a rise that may not fall, regardless of the economy.
TDS: How long will it last? Where will it all go next?
Anna: I’m hopeful—as I’m sure all of the breweries themselves are—that this is the new standard, and that the craft beer explosion isn’t a bubble that will burst. Nationally craft beer now represents around 10 percent of the domestic beer market. In Oregon, where craft beer is no longer novelty but the norm in cities like Portland, craft beer accounts for nearly 50 percent of the market. I wouldn’t say we are heading to that level across the country, and no doubt the rapid-fire expansion of breweries will slow down eventually—if for no other reason that the limits of shelf space and tap handles—but there is no reason that there isn’t still room to grow. Craft beer is no longer niche, it’s mainstream. But it’s important to differentiate that total market growth of craft beer to potential growth for every individual brewer. Competition continues to grow as the overall market grows, including the increasing attention coming from traditional macro brewers.
TDS: Will the breweries that grow bigger start to buy up smaller brews?
Anna: I doubt that will happen to some degree, but part of what makes this movement distinct, and different from the beer boom of the 1990s, is that brewers and owners are starting breweries for reasons beyond making a profit. It’s a business enterprise, of course, and many craft breweries have become very successful, but there is more to why many of these breweries are started.
Most of the brewers I profiled in my book are doing this because it’s their passion, and they are focused first and foremost with making good beer. A place like New Glarus in Wisconsin could likely double production and distribute across the country if it wanted to, but New Glarus beer is available only in Wisconsin because Dan and Deb Carey want to make excellent, local, fresh beer for their community and home. They want to maintain the quality of the beer they make, and believe it means keeping distribution reigned in to do so. Even staying within the borders of the state, New Glarus has been in a constant state of expansion for years.
Jason Schoneman of Steel Toe Brewery in Minneapolis doesn’t intend to produce much more than 1,000 barrels a year—a miniscule amount even by craft beer standards—because he wants to make beer hyper-local. He wants his drinkers to always have fresh beer, he wants to control distribution so that he can make sure it is fresh. He even bottles to order, which is virtually unheard of—it’s harder to get beer fresher than that.
There are bound to be breweries that open for the sole purpose of making money and intend to sell at a point down the line. Whether they’ll make it that far is debatable if they are running their breweries with anything but a beer-first intention. There is so much good beer out there right now, that anyone who opens a brewery today is going to have to really get behind the product, and still be thoughtful about the rate of growth they take on.
I think the more common trend right now is brewer-owners who love what they do, putting in relentless hard work to make something that is their own and to support and strengthen their local craft beer communities. And they want to hang on to that.
It will be interesting to watch what happens in terms of consolidation. If you think about the differences between craft and macro brewing, it’s in some ways analogous to other products such as cheese. I’m not sure we have seen Kraft trying to buy up a bunch of small cheese makers in Wisconsin. While we may see a few more situations similar to what happened with Goose Island, I believe there will continue to be a role for the smaller, local brewers that are producing unique and high-quality beer.
Thanks to Anna for taking the time to talk with us. Let us know what you think of the book using #DapperBrew.