Is Craft Beer dead?

Goose Island was the first bomb to drop. They would not be the last.

Goose Island was the first bomb to drop. They would not be the last.

I’m not trying to be Chicken Little and shout that the craft beer sky is falling, but it’s just one acquisition after another these days.  And they’re not over, my flavorful-beer-loving friends. I think we can expect this trend to continue for a lot of different reasons. From aging founders looking for that payoff to help them in retirement, to jaded business-owners who see their competition being snagged for large sums of money, to people starting breweries just hoping to be bought out, I think we can see the trend continue, and at a faster rate than before. I’ve shared the articles with you, my craft beer brothers and sisters. Craft Beer is undergoing a major upheaval, and it’s coming from those brewers which craft beer has always struggled against: The Macros.

Soon to follow was 10 Barrel...this trend certainly wasn't slowing down...

Soon to follow was 10 Barrel…this trend certainly wasn’t slowing down…

The first harbinger of the winds of change was Goose Island. When this deal went down, I’d really only heard of their Bourbon County Stout. In fact, I’d actually had it, and really thought it was something special. What the bourbon barrels did to this stout was amazing, and I’d never had anything like it. Some time later, they purchased 10 Barrel Brewing out of Bend, OR, which I’ve still never tried (and won’t), followed a couple months later by Elysian Brewing out of Seattle, WA. The Elysian deal hit me harder, as I’d actually been to one of their pubs in Seattle, and really liked their pumpkin beers.  In fact, until that point, the Elysian Pub experience was one of the more enjoyable craft beer experiences I’d had. How these brewers could sell out to what had been the enemy prior to this was unthinkable. Elysian’s motto had been “Corporate beer sucks!” How do you lose track of this, I wondered. It just didn’t make sense.  You quit your (potentially more lucrative) day job (which possibly had benefits and some sort of retirement package), and start doing something you’re passionate about. Clearly you’re not in it for the money. I mean, obviously you have to pay the bills.  Obviously, you have to live. But when many of these breweries started, craft beer was not the booming market that it is today.

I was hit hard with this news. No more fine pumpkin ales for me...

I was hit hard with this news. No more fine pumpkin ales from Elysian for me. The truly sad thing is now that they’re AB InBev, they’re more likely to be seen in the Central Valley, tempting me to ignore my inconvenient principles.

And I guess that’s what has really changed over the years.  Many of these breweries did not start out when craft beer was in its infancy. I mean, we’re talking the 80’s at that point, which was really a lot longer ago than I care to admit, apparently. When companies like Sierra Nevada Brewing started out, they were not meeting a need, they were showing people they had needs that were not being met. They were truly evangelizing what full-flavored beers could actually be. Things are significantly different now. While not in the same league as macro beers, craft beer is the only market segment which is growing. The fact of the matter is that these days, there IS money to be made in craft beer. Some companies are starting out hoping to make it big, and be the next success story in craft beer. But what does that even look like today?

Another acquisition, though perhaps a less distasteful one, but one which was MUCH closer to home.

Another acquisition, though perhaps a less distasteful one, but one which was MUCH closer to home.

See, the fact is that everyone is hoping to be the next Stone or Sierra Nevada. Possibly, they even want to be the next Boston Beer Co. That ship has sailed, I think. Just as there was never going to be another Annheuser-Busch, companies growing up in craft beer today have thousands of competitors. As craft beer is proving to be more than just a fad, more and more breweries are entering the segment, and crowding it.  What do you have to do in order to make a splash in the craft beer world these days? Do you make a fine example of an IPA? White noise, especially on the left coast. Do you make a crazy 18% abv barrel aged imperial pilsener? You will likely be shunned by the beer purists who say your innovative concoction spits upon the tradition of fine Czech brewing. You can’t color outside the lines too much, because you will be shunned, but you

I'd seen Saint Archer on the shelves, but hadn't had the chance to try it. Won't get that chance now.

I’d seen Saint Archer on the shelves, but hadn’t had the chance to try it. Won’t get that chance now.

can’t just conform to the BJCP style guidelines or you won’t be distinctive enough to make that splash you need to guarantee your successful entry into the market. When was the last time you found yourself saying “Wow, that was just a consummate English Bitter?”  Shoot, when was the last time you found a brewery offering a to-style English Bitter? Or a mild? The craft beer landscape is crowded, and it’s getting more difficult to figure out what the next “big thing” is going to be in the market. What will set truly fine brewers apart in 5 years?

This is one that truly saddened me. I had just discovered their Gingerbread Stout and even more recently their Wolf Among Weeds IPA. I enjoyed it while it lasted...

This is one that truly saddened me. I had just discovered their Gingerbread Stout and even more recently their Wolf Among Weeds IPA. I enjoyed it while it lasted…

And that’s where we find ourselves today. There is money to be made in craft beer, but it’s increasingly looking like the MOST money is to be had by selling out to a big brewer. As jaded as it sounds, I guess we’ll see what brewery owners are REALLY in this business for in the coming years. Because *I*, for one, think that craft beer isn’t going anywhere. When craft beer started, it was all about the ingredients and the quality. Was Bud cheap? You bet it was. But was it quality? No. There is just nothing to compare to an all-barley beer when it comes to flavor. Yes, you can use rice syrup to up the alcohol without adding body, but what if I WANT body, flavor, and complexity? I think the distinction between complex/flavorful and shallow/sweet is still worth making. And as for craft breweries who sold out to the enemy (and to be clear, to me that’s AB InBev), I’m not buying your beers anymore. You sold out to a company who uses their distributor network to squeeze out small brewers and files lawsuits just to torpedo small brewers. I don’t and won’t support companies that pull that crap, end of story. I don’t think craft beer, with its original definition (which had more to do with quality than size or ownership), is going anywhere. But I certainly think it’s going to look different in the coming years.  It’ll be interesting to see where it goes. If you get tired of the money shenanigans, feel free to swing by and I’ll pour you a pint of something that was truly brewed the hard way: by hand, in my backyard.

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Brew with the Scotsman and Drew Contest

The Scotsman Brew Rig in action!

The Scotsman Brew Rig in action!

Are you interested in the process of making beer? Want to drink some fine ales while enjoying fine sausage from Lockeford Meats? Free on September 26th? Enter your name, and if you are chosen, you will be cordially invited to brew with the Scotsman and Drew!

On Sept. 26th at about 10am, we will begin making a batch of strong scotch ale for Drew’s wedding. There will be good beer, good food, and a good time at the Scotsman Estate, and one listener will be invited to join us! Will it be you?

To enter, simply send me your name and preferred contact information (to notify you if chosen) through one of the following methods:

– via text to 800-ALES (800-2537)
– e-mail to scotsman@aleevangelistshow.com
– send me a private message through the Facebook Fan Page

**Enter by 11:59:59 PM on Tuesday, September 15th**. One submission per household, please!

If your name is chosen on Wednesday, September 16th, you will be invited to come brew with us! (Please don’t comment on this post to attempt to enter. It’s not a great idea to provide personally identifiable information on the Internet, Facebook, etc.)

And now for the annoying liability crap…

Terms and Conditions (By submitting your name, you agree that you have read these terms and conditions):
– Brew Day is Saturday, September 26th. This is non-negotiable. If you are not free that day, please don’t submit your name. If something comes up, we will apologize, and will try to invite you to a future brew day. No promises.

– Drunkenness will not be tolerated. The Scotsman is the sole arbiter for when you’ve had too much, and you will be thrown off the property if you can’t control your drinking/behavior.

– By submitting your name, you release Scotsman, Drew, and the Ale Evangelist show from all liability arising from the making of beer, and from any potential mental distress of seeing adults make and partake in the consumption of adult beverages. If you are selected, you’re being invited to come hang out with friends in a backyard…that’s all. You do so at your own risk and under your own care. If this sounds too risky to you, don’t submit your name.

– THIS EVENT IS OFFERED FOR FUN. IT IS OFFERED WITH NO WARRANTIES, EITHER EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. THE ENTIRE RISK AS TO THE QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE OF THE EVENT IS WITH YOU. SHOULD THE EVENT NOT TAKE PLACE OR LIVE UP TO ANYONE’S STANDARDS (INCLUDING PROVIDING BEER OR FOOD OF ANY KIND), YOU ASSUME ALL LIABILITY.

More Questions Than Answers: What is Craft Beer?

So we are a podcast dedicated to discussing craft beer in the Central Valley. It’s a pretty straightforward statement…or so I thought when I started this whole thing. After all, we have an “official” definition of what constitutes craft beer, right? It’s set forth by the Brewers Association, and it’s pretty easy to understand, isn’t it? Isn’t it? Bueller? So what makes thing so darn complicated? Well, in case you hadn’t heard, Lagunitas agreed to have Heineken International acquire 50% of itself in an effort to bring Lagunitas world-wide.

So is this good? Bad? Ugly? I suspect Drew and I will delve into this subject on the Ale Evangelist Show this week. We may come to different opinions.  I will tell you this.  I currently have five Little Sumpin’ Extras hanging out in my fridge waiting for me to enjoy them. I also have an Equinox chilled and waiting. Is Lagunitas craft? Is Heneken International an “evil brewer”?

What do you think? This is what Tony Magee thinks. Stay tuned to the next Ale Evangelist Show (Saturday 9/12) to find out what we think.

Missionary Work: Brewing this Saturday!

Most of my ale evangelism, it seems, has been focused on the brewing aspect of my life, lately. I’m ok with this. You see, if you’re willing to live the life and go through so much trouble to create something that you can go to the store and buy for less than $10 for a 6-pack, there must be something to this stuff that people just aren’t getting, right? After all, how many people do you know who would take 7 hours out of their Saturday, get a system for chilling their beer down to lagering termps, and work that hard to brew something like Budweiser? The answer? Not too many. Simply investing the time and money in the hobby is enough to tell someone how passionate you are about this beer. Some people will shake their head at you. Others will start to wonder if there’s something about this “beer” stuff that they’ve been missing for all this time.
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Pastoral Counseling: Learning to brew / appreciate better beer

Brewing can be a science, but does it have to be? I mean, when we think about the history of brewing, haven’t people been brewing beer since before the human race even knew what yeast really was? With that in mind, can we possibly be overthinking brewing and beer in general? Do we need to know every little nano-aspect of brewing to the Nth degree? Well, I think there’s some wisdom in that, but let’s talk about it some, shall we?
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