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Will Home Brewers Going Ruin the Craft Beer Industry? Democratization vs. Dilution?

Is there room for all at the bar?

Is there room for all at the bar?

Some home brewers think that just cause they can make a batch of decent home made beer for their buddies that they can go out and start a brewery, and that’s dangerous for our industry”.

There will be too much mediocre beer out there, people will lose interest, and the global macro breweries with all their resources will move in and take over”.

“You can’t be a brewer with another ‘day job’. You have to be all in”.

What’s the cause of this angst and dismay over the prolific growth of small craft breweries from humble home brewing roots? The preceding quotes were from three very different brewers, each with their own perspectives and fears about the new “democratization” of brewing threatens the very future of their blossoming craft beer industry.

The first comment came from a brewer at a small craft brewery in central Pennsylvania, who was certain that new, self trained bootstrap micro and nano breweries would turn potential craft brew consumers off to craft beer entirely . “They work part time and it’s a hobby – they don’t realize that they are competing with me, this is what feeds my family, pays my mortgage. They don’t know what they are doing, they have no idea about sanitation for one example. Bad beer is inevitable. People will be turned off and not come back.”

The next opinion came from one of the highest regarded “old school” craft brewers in  California – who started brewing at at macro’s in the 1970’s before striking out on his in own in 198X at some early craft breweries around San Francisco. “This used to be an edgy lifestyle, now anyone with some money can do it. That’s not what I signed up for.” He expressed concern about the inevitable replacement of craft brews with “crafty” beers from the “big two”.  “They have all the power – marketing, scale, it’s just a matter of time until enough bad craft beer is out there, and their more predictable alternative will move in and take over.”

The final quote came from an established brewer at one of the larger breweries in the Philadelphia area. While a supporter of home brewing himself – he doesn’t believe that part time inexperienced brewers will succeed.  (I once went to a very successful local small brewery with him, and he pointed out to me that the distinctive “house flavor” was actually a mild contamination of a benign bacteria.) “There’s a commitment there that you have to make to be successful, otherwise it’s really a hobby”.

As a craft beer enthusiast following the industry for over 15 years, I understand the concern of those in the craft brewing industry over seeing that anyone with a passion for beer – with some investors and a license can put their beer out on the market. That beer can be unremarkable, or even unpleasant, and can even make a beer drinker think twice before they ask for another beer.

A passionate brewer educating the masses

A passionate brewer educating the masses

On the other hand,it may well be that the very proliferation of craft breweries today and the stores and restaurants that serve them that are what helps defeat the worry about the potential loss of beer drinkers due to a mediocre craft experience. The continual education of craft beer consumers will be what helps combat this from happening.  Like few other industries brewers and those that work in breweries, brew pubs and bottle shops want to share, and enjoy teaching craft beer drinkers what makes beer good. The educated craft beer consumer will know good from bad, and also know that one bad experience isn’t enough abandon the whole category. As Sam Calagione from Dogfish once said “Beer is the people’s drink, but craft beer is the thinking person’s drink.”

This education comes from not only specific recommendations and opinions from craft beer purveyors, but also from beer classes, brewery tours, tastings and other beer events common today at most all craft beer establishments.

I believe that if an educated beer drinker tries a craft beer and it’s not that good, they will simply avoid that particular brand and move on to another. They won’t expect that every new brewery they try is going to always be turning out all great beers. Just like a patron that tries a new restaurant that isn’t great, they will avoid returning to that place, but won’t avoid eating out at restaurants completely.  And unless the establishment improves their product, it’s likely that a poor quality restaurant will fail – but at the same time consistently good restaurants will continue to prosper.

Breweries that put out unremarkable and lame brews will naturally thin out as their superior quality competitors stand out and continue to gain market share. This is also to the betterment of the older more established higher quality craft breweries who have long lived and proven products – those are the breweries that educated craft beer drinkers will return to time and time again.

Let’s continue the education of the beer drinking population, let’s make sure that new beer drinkers (or converted ones) understand what makes a quality craft beer good, and support the passion and commitment that makes craft brewing one of the most successful industries in America today.

Home brewers helped start the craft beer revolution

Home brewers helped start the craft beer revolution

Craft beer is inclusive, not exclusive and there is room for lots of different brewers that have the passion and care excessively about the quality of their product. Let’s support and promote them and avoid the breweries that don’t have the commitment to quality and consistency.  And let’s not forget that many of our most revered craft breweries like Sierra Nevada and Stone, along with Yards and Dogfish were started by home brewers themselves. An educated consumer is our best way to support craft beer and quality breweries – something everyone in the industry can help lead.

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