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When does it stop being craft?

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  • When does it stop being craft?

    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.
    Scott Perry
    Linke Brewing Co. - Brewer of Wicked Daddy Beers

  • #2
    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.

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    • #3
      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.

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      • #4
        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 .

        The craft beer rise? In the words of Pantera, my fellow Texans, "We're takin' over this town!"
        ______________________
        Jamie Fulton
        Community Beer Co.
        Dallas, Texas

        "Beer for the Greater Good"

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        • #5
          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?
          Little Deep Brewing Company
          Minot, North Dakota
          www.littledeepbrewing.com

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          • #6
            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

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            • #7
              Originally posted by jfulton
              The craft beer rise? In the words of Pantera, my fellow Texans, "We're takin' over this town!"
              I love this!

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              • #8
                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.

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                • #9
                  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.
                  Owner
                  Grind Modern Burger
                  PostModern Brewers
                  Boise, ID

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                  • #10
                    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.
                    Scott Perry
                    Linke Brewing Co. - Brewer of Wicked Daddy Beers

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                    • #11
                      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.
                      Regards,
                      Chris Mills

                      Kereru Brewing Company
                      http://kererubrewing.co.nz

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                      • #12
                        its just a name in reality. but ill go with....when it becomes a regional.

                        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.
                        Last edited by lijah; 07-24-2013, 10:01 PM.
                        cheers,

                        Lijah Foregger
                        lbeer2@rocketmail.com

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                        • #13
                          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

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by panadero View Post
                            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).

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by LuskusDelph View Post
                              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.

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