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View Full Version : When does it stop being craft?



Wicked Daddy
10-09-2012, 02:37 PM
Been lurking for awhile, reading like crazy as I build my business plan for a 20BBL brewery. As I have been a homebrewer for over 15 years and studied beers from all over and followed the rise of many craft breweries, I begin to see a trend among craft brewers that seems like a self-destructive process:

Growth for the sake of growth.

Many of the craft brewers that have blazed the trail for craft brewing in America have become the very behemoths that they swore they'd never be. Many have merged with others and formed conglomerates, changed their brand or sold to private equity, only to later be sold again or ultimately went away. Some have become producers of over 1M BBLs annually. Can we really still call that craft beer? Can beer that is brewed in 250BBL kettles really be called "crafted"?

What is the threshold at which quality, any fraction of it, is sacrificed for quantity? Personally, my goal for my brewery is to never cross it. I' m interested in what others would call that line.

einhorn
10-09-2012, 04:01 PM
The ENTIRE craft market makes up 6% of volume. What the "big little" guys singularly or combined produce is peanuts compared to the big brewers, even in 250 bbl batches.

ponysaurusbrew
10-09-2012, 07:15 PM
A lot I could say on this, but brewery size is about the last thing on my list when commenting on a particular brewery's craft.

Just my .02.....


Sierra Nevada goes through more trouble to ensure the quality of their product than just about any other brewery, period. As they have grown, they have INCREASED the amount of effort they put into R&D, growing the ingredients for their own estate ales, added beers to their regular seasonal lineups.....I could go on.

jfulton
10-09-2012, 07:39 PM
These pointlessly pontificating threads are beginning to annoy me. It's a business! When you get up and running, expanding and taking loans or bringing on new investors, there's a common thread: making money. Craft beers cost more to brew than most on the market, so increasing your scale is the easiest way to reduce costs while maintaining the quality of the product.

Coming from a homebrew background and getting ready to get your feet off the ground, you have HUGE passion, that's what is takes to make the plunge. At this point in your brewing career, it may seem like these guys are losing their passion, but I see it as a HUGE win for all of us craft beer brewers and consumers. As a previous post mentioned, most craft expansions allow for increased QC and also R&D, all good things. As head brewer, I see expansion as a way to get more sweet toys too:D .

The craft beer rise? In the words of Pantera, my fellow Texans, "We're takin' over this town!"

thatjonguy
10-09-2012, 08:12 PM
Just because you are brewing beer and are passionate about it, does not make the brewery exempt from the normal business world. You are still a small business, just one that brews beer instead of making widgets. It is an uphill battle to open any business without any business knowledge or experience, let alone a capital intensive business.

I have three passions in my life: family, beer and small business.

I was born to be a business man, it makes me tick. It just so happens that I found myself in an opportunity to intersect business and beer. I will never lose my passion for any of those things.

However just because someone makes more of the same beer they have been making for the life of their company to satisfy more customers, they have sold out because they used private equity to expand?

nohandslance
10-09-2012, 08:23 PM
Unless you have something to 'fall back' on, I doubt you will say no to more sales.

Lance
Rebel Malting Co.
Reno, Nevada USA
ljergensen@rebelmalting.com
775.997.6411

CedarCreek
10-09-2012, 09:33 PM
The craft beer rise? In the words of Pantera, my fellow Texans, "We're takin' over this town!"

I love this!

LuskusDelph
10-10-2012, 12:40 PM
I reject the notion that craft is defined by the size of the brewer.
The craft is what you taste in the glass. Scattered in amongst the rent paying yellow fizzwater that still dominates the beer business (and which will continue to do for a long time to come), some big brewers are producing very fine craft beers that are definitely worthy of that designation.
Brewing itself is a craft.

While the vast majority of smaller brewers are making very good to excellent beer, the reality is that there are plenty of lousy beers out there from small brewers as well, labeling themselves as craft.

It's all about the quality of the final product, and not about whether the brewery is in a 1200 sq foot plant instead of covering 10 city blocks.
If Sierra Nevada manages to maintain the amazing quality they have managed to maintain thus far, they will still be 'craft' no matter how big they get or how many breweries they might eventually open.

If the small brewers of the world need to differentiate their products from those of the big brewers, the industry needs to come up with a better descriptive. Or even better, just continue on focusing on making the best possible product. In the end it's not the rampant industry PR hype that ultimately defines what "craft" is...it is the consumer.

Brewtopian
10-10-2012, 09:57 PM
I think the suggestion that smaller brewers make better beer is completely specious. Small brewers do often make more diverse and and innovative beers because they are working in smaller batches and have that flexibility but their beer is more times than not inconsistent. Innovative and diverse are not necessarily better.

Wicked Daddy
10-24-2012, 01:17 PM
Thanks for the replies. I suppose the consensus is that there is no line on volume as long as QC remains intact or improves.

Interesting.

kererubrewing
12-29-2012, 01:10 PM
I think when one starts reducing their grain bill to maximise profits at the expense of body and flavour that one is travelling down the slippery slope away from what many would call craft-beer. When shareholder value is more important than customer satisfaction is also likely to be a clue that one is moving away from craft and towards something else.

Debt-driven economies of scale make this quite challenging and it is a testament of the vision and leadership within those larger breweries who make awesome, characterful beers regardless of the volume.

2 from the antipodes.

lijah
07-24-2013, 09:57 PM
Ok. So i can already hear bottles flying past my head.

I personally will answer........when it quits making beer and starts making money.
Also who came up with this nano junk. I mean when i look at a brewery , I see equal effort from all the brewers no matter the size. Budweiser might not be some peoples idea of crafted beer. Bit let me tell you. They are just as crafty as these startups that someone decided to call nano. No brewery ever started as a250 system.and im sure some older brewers will agree on this..

any size vessal still has to be finely crafted in orderto acheive your target gravity. And it takes just as much love to produce 1bbl as it does to produce 250bbl mashes.
Nano-micro-craft-regional-----simply a name put by some indivisuals to be unique. Yet unique is recognizing the CRAFT love and pride that all breweries big and small equaly CRAFTED...

Sorry if i offend any body that thinks the size of brewery defines the craftmenship.

panadero
07-26-2013, 08:23 AM
Briefly, I don't think the question was about quality. Just size. I think Sierra Nevada is one of the best beers out there, and has been for a long time, but it doesn't really fall into the traditional meaning of craft. Agreed that size is meaningless compared to quality. I guess if I were ever to run a huge brewery, though, I would want to consider it still my craft, though I never lift a bag of grain...
2cents

LuskusDelph
07-26-2013, 09:09 AM
Briefly, I don't think the question was about quality. Just size. I think Sierra Nevada is one of the best beers out there, and has been for a long time, but it doesn't really fall into the traditional meaning of craft. Agreed that size is meaningless compared to quality. I guess if I were ever to run a huge brewery, though, I would want to consider it still my craft, though I never lift a bag of grain...
2cents

The real problem is that the term "craft" as defined by the BA is itself defective (and constantly bound to change so as not to exclude small brewers that get bigger).
As has been said dozens of times (by me and many other observers of the industry), it's really just a marketing term anyway...one that has less and less meaning with each passing year.

I guess "craft" was just easier to remember for marketing purposes than "artisanal" would have been (even though the latter is certainly more accurate and meaningful).

Either way, the only real purpose of trying to put a label on it really seems to be strictly an effort to give the products snob appeal. That aspect is constantly proven by beer fans who seem to think that small brewers are in the game strictly for the love of it and not for the profits; such as when small brewers attain success in the mainstream, grow larger, or become associated with larger companies for a distribution advantage they are accused of "selling out".
It's all rather silly, really.

As long as the beer is good, brewery size is totally irrelevant. The game has been changing, and the next few years will be very interesting, likely bringing another revolution of sorts (and probably another big shakeout).

panadero
07-26-2013, 09:31 AM
The real problem is that the term "craft" as defined by the BA is itself defective

Agreed. Small or large, make good beer. That is what counts, though I admittedly am not a marketing whiz.

eoconnor101
08-12-2013, 02:35 PM
From Randy Mosher's Radical Brewing

paraphrasing....'when a homebrewer (current or former) makes the ultimate decision of what the beer will taste like it's craft beer'

I think he is drawing a line in that the second the bean counters make a decision regarding recipe formulation or process such as to only carry 5 specialty malts and cut your hop budget and say you must choose 1 house yeast strain etc, it's no longer craft. In this respect the size of a brewery has nothing to do with it.

nateo
08-12-2013, 03:32 PM
I think he is drawing a line in that the second the bean counters make a decision regarding recipe formulation or process such as to only carry 5 specialty malts and cut your hop budget and say you must choose 1 house yeast strain etc, it's no longer craft. In this respect the size of a brewery has nothing to do with it.

As a bean counter, I take offense to that notion. No brewer in the world completely ignores cost, at any scale. Home- and Pro-brewers pick NA pils over the finest floor-malted Bohemian pils all the time, or over domestic micro-malted pils, because it's cheaper and almost as good in most situations. Does that mean it's not craft anymore? Does craft require you to run your business into the ground? I don't think so. . .

ChesterBrew
08-12-2013, 03:46 PM
"Purity tests" ultimately lead to a circular firing squad.

I don't know what's going to pop the craft bubble first: American consumers' tendency to move on to the "next big thing," raw material shortages for so many breweries, or the industry destroying itself like an auto-immune disease.

LuskusDelph
08-12-2013, 08:29 PM
...I don't know what's going to pop the craft bubble first: American consumers' tendency to move on to the "next big thing," raw material shortages for so many breweries, or the industry destroying itself like an auto-immune disease.

The industry may not destroy itself, but it is definitely starting to get comically 'self important'.
Just make good beer. In the big picture, that's really the only category or descriptive that's important.

ChesterBrew
08-13-2013, 03:44 AM
The industry may not destroy itself, but it is definitely starting to get comically 'self important'.

Yes, that's a more precise description of what I was intending to say. I worked at a software company during the dot-com days; now seeing many, many parallels to that point in time.



Just make good beer. In the big picture, that's really the only category or descriptive that's important.

Agree... Make good beer and be able to get it to market, whether it be through distribution or your own tap room.

scrubb
01-15-2014, 11:16 AM
To me the biggest difference between large industrial brewers and myself isn't so much the scale as it is the personalization. I make the beer I sell, for its own sake. It's not a "product" or a "line" or a "brand". It's me. I am actually willing to die keeping my business and beer alive. Somehow I doubt that a marketing/executive suit in an office far removed from the "production facility" has the same investment. To them it's just another corporate job. They can move on to another "brand" without a second thought. This is what differentiates craft from industrial and why craft will triumph.

scrubb
01-15-2014, 11:28 AM
Is the beer brewed because it conforms to some perception of median consumer taste as garnered from a series of focus groups and taste panels, or is it brewed because the brewer had a vision of flavor and identity and then composed the beer from a palette of ingredients regardless of his perception of how popular the result might be?

Bainbridge
01-16-2014, 11:35 AM
You're drawing artificial distinctions, false dichotomies.

Craft Beer is a Product.

It is also an art, also a science, also what we do and therefore part of who we are. Just like anybody making a good product, be it a car, a dinner, a website, or anything. But if you can't sell it, very soon you won't be brewing it anywhere but in your basement. We all have a vision of what we want to brew. The successful among us will brew things that other people actually want to drink.

It's all fine and good to say "Man, the customers just don't get it." But to quote Purple Rain:


The Kid: That's life, man.

Billy: Life, my ass, motherf____r! This is a business, and you too far gone to see that yet! I told you before, you're not packin' them in like you used to. No one digs your music but yourself.


It's the balance between idealism and practicality. As an owner you are the the boots in the brewhouse and also the suit in the office. You have to make the tough decisions. Sometimes you have to face the fact, disappointing as it may be, that you're the only person that digs your music. But sometimes you stick with it and other people will start humming along. You will have to kill a favorite beer off, and you will have to promote beers you are less than happy with. And to find that out you look hard at your sales, your costs, your staff and customer's feedback, and so on, and your vision morphs to become one that more and more people can see. It's an iterative process, not a uni-directional statement of "This my Craft Beer. You will buy it and you will like it. I have a Vision."

Comical self-righteousness doesn't get anyone a new fermenter or more kegs. (Ok, well maybe Stone...) Quality product, good sales, and sound management does. At the end of the day we're just adding flowers to boiling sugar water (http://digboston.com/boston-beer-brewing/2013/07/on-beer-and-brewing-so-you-want-to-be-a-brewer-eh/). Those who understand that will continue the privilege of being able to do so. And yes, that's kinda depressing. But personally, I find it to be freeing.

Now, it's time to go make some kickass flowery sugar-water.

liammckenna
01-17-2014, 04:54 AM
The successful among us will brew things that other people actually want to drink.

It's the balance between idealism and practicality. As an owner you are the the boots in the brewhouse and also the suit in the office. You have to make the tough decisions. Sometimes you have to face the fact, disappointing as it may be, that you're the only person that digs your music.

Very well said Russell.

Brewers make liquid bread. If a baker only made bread that people enjoyed a mere half a slice of a few times a year, do you think he/she would be in business for long? Perhaps if they shipped their unique bread halfway around the world to go stale on shelves? Ha!

Pax.

Liam

Glenn Harrison
01-17-2014, 11:24 AM
i think unfortunately we have this built in response in our minds that if a small/craft brewery becomes popular grows and makes money then we start to say they are not one of us any more.
At the end of the day we are all in it to make great beer, make a living and hopefully grow.
It is not a crime to make money and be successful