I just wrote a small piece in my book about what defines a craft brewer, and I was faced at having to put down this ridiculous statistic, here, directly from the Brewers Association.

Microbrewery: A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels (17,600 hectoliters) of beer per year with 75% or more of its beer sold off site.

Regional Brewery: A brewery with an annual beer production of between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels.

As a small brewer who will, with any luck, make 500 – 1000 bbls of beer next year, I could not fathom writing down that last number. Just to put this in perspective, I downloaded the 2010 craft beer statistics to take a quick look at them. Bear in mind, now, that 60 or so breweries didn’t report data, so I may be off from reality by a few decimal points here or there. The 2010 data lists 1415 breweries with barrelage data, which is about 300 short of our current number, since so many have opened recently.

Of these, 1334 fell under 15,000 barrels. That’s mindboggling. Up from there, only the top 18 make over 100,000 barrels/year, and only the top 4 make over 500,000 barrels per year. If you take the average from the top 10 craft producers in the country (in 2010), the number is 487,528. If you average all 1415, the number is 6,961, and if you leave out the top 18 it drops to 2,919.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, for two reasons. One, I think we need more than two categorizations for breweries, because I fail to see what anybody that’s operating at 1,000 bbls/year has in common with someone who is producing 500,000 bbls/year aside from the actual end product. I don’t think you could find two more different companies, and I wonder if the majority of the breweries (ie – the small ones) are actually having their needs met from a professional organization standpoint.

The BA Board is primarily comprised of people from the largest breweries who don’t know what it’s like to be a small brewer in today’s market, only yesterday’s where they didn’t have to compete with.. well.. themselves. Kim Jordan has no idea what it’s like to have New Belgium expand aggressively into her state, Sam Calagione has no idea what it’s like to have to compete with his innovation. They’ve never had to do so. Their success has changed the market for small breweries in ways that they’ve never dealt with. Can they accurately consider and respond to issues and concerns of breweries significantly smaller than them? Maybe they can. I don’t know.

I would like to see a more tiered breakdown of breweries, and maybe see the BA address them as separate segments from an organizational standpoint:

Artisanal brewery: 0 – 10,000 bbls (1311 breweries in 2010)
Microbrewery: 10,000 – 50,000 bbls (71 breweries in 2010)
Regional brewery: 50,000 bbls – 100,000 bbls (15 breweries in 2010)
Super-regional brewery: 100,000 bbls – 1,000,000 bbls (17 breweries in 2010)
Premium craft brewery: 1,000,000 bbls – 6,000,000 bbls (1 brewery in 2010)

I’d also just like to pose the question: Would a brewery that makes 6,000,000 bbls/year really have the same interests as the 1300+ that make fewer than 10,000 bbls year? The size difference there is just staggering. In no way is that still a small business in any way shape or form. I’m not advocating culling the BA membership or anything, but given the large numbers of very small breweries, wouldn’t it make sense to treat each of these tiers differently from an organizational level, especially since the small breweries are less likely to have the resources to advocate for anything other than making their own sales goals to stay open?

Maybe the BA could feature different sized small brewer committees to deal with issues that come up within each successive tier. They’re going to be different, from supplier needs to distribution needs – what is relevant to a small brewery will be laughable to a large one and vice versa. Each tier could have advisory members from larger tiers to offer advice on problems that arise for these small guys that they’ve already conquered, or to act as a liaison to the larger tiers if there are intra-industry issues that pop up where small brewers are having a hard time getting their voice heard.

Just food for thought.

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 07 Nov 2011 @ 7:24 PM 

I’m a little late off the mark on this, since the article that I’m responding to was actually written days ago, and really had a fair amount of buzz over the weekend. Still, since through some fluke of internettery or bad programming I’m unable to post my feelings in the comments of article, you get to read my thoughts here.

This is in response to the article posted on Bon Appetit‘s website named (le sigh) Why Beer Growlers are Bad for your Brew

The first thing I’d like to point out is that the URL to the article is actually “Garrett Oliver Thinks Growlers…” and I bet the next work is “Suck”, but that apparently didn’t meet the “sweeping generalization in order to get as many eyes as possible” criteria. Good job. It worked. I wish it wouldn’t have.

It’s raised a bit of ire around beer blogs and on Beer Advocate, and one of the commenters on the article itself poses the interesting question of “Why would anyone ever be so emotionally committed to growlers that it would ever induce such outrage?”

I can’t say it’s outrage, but it definitely makes me feel a bit.. well.. exasperated. Garrett Oliver really did write the book on beer. Well… he edited it, anyway, despite numerous errors, and his opinion carries weight, even when it seems like a quick one-off bullshit answer to some guy who he’s drinking with. Because after you’ve written the book on beer, your slightest opinions get repeated like this:

“Oh, well, Garrett Oliver says [poorly translated version of what Garrett Oliver actually said taken immediately as the holy fucking gospel].”

It’s especially bad when it’s repeated by a magazine like Bon Appetit, even if it is a bullshit one-off name-dropping blog post by some guy who was probably just desperate to meet an editing deadline, because people who trust Bon Appetit (who are likely people who buy good, craft beer) are likely to come away with:

“Oh, well, I read in Bon Appetit that Garrett Oliver says [something incredibly inaccurate which will be taken as an unbreakable law that only a basilisk’s tooth dipped in unicorn tears could possibly destroy].”

So, let’s hear it for journalistic integrity on the internet in 2011!

(crickets)

I can tell you why people would get emotional about it – for some small breweries, growlers can be a life saver. Packaging lines (bottles, cans) are expensive, and growlers can be a great way for new and/or small breweries to get product into locations, like grocery stores, or maybe even people’s homes, in a way that kegs just can’t do on a large scale basis. It’s not emotional, it’s defensive.

At Mystery, we’re counting on growler sales to help us through our startup, and I’m hoping that they constitute a large portion of our sales. That said, we’re planning using a counter-pressure growler filler to make sure that they’re packaged correctly instead of urinating directly into each one, as Garrett Oliver would have Andrew Knowlton have you believe. And I would never, EVER fill a dirty growler. Dirty growlers should be traded out for clean ones. I have the tools to clean growlers in ways that most people do not in their homes, and ultimately, I am represented best by giving you excellent beer.

But to address a big issue in the article of “the pros hate growlers”. Ugh. Are growlers ideal ways to package beer? No. But I don’t hate them.

Here’s what I hate: I hate it when bottle shops have beer sitting warm on shelves. I hate it when they have beer sitting near fluorescent lights. I hate it when they don’t pull beer off of the shelves after 90 days. I hate it when bars don’t clean their tap lines, or when they serve beer in frosted mugs, or shove a faucet into a beer while it’s being poured, or don’t give me a new glass when I order a new beer. I hate it when bars don’t have dishwashers that get hot enough to clean lipstick off of glassware, or wash their glassware in the same dishwasher as their food dishes.

All of those things can have a detrimental effect on the flavor and presentation of a beer and all of those are way, way, WAY more common than someone filling a dirty growler or filling one so incorrectly that the consumer will notice a difference, assuming they consume it while it’s still fresh.

But I can’t control those other things. I can, as a brewer, control the quality of the growlers that leave my establishment. I can make sure they’re clean and they’re filled properly – just like any packaging brewer would do for ANY packaged beer product.

I’d like to see an actual well-researched, well-considered followup article by Bon Appetit about this, but I’m sure it just won’t happen.

This piece of pseudo-journalism will go on misinforming in droves. It might seem silly, but these little one-off things coming from a source that people trust can be very damaging to small businesses. It’s already being repeated, and all it takes is one more journalist who doesn’t know how to research (which I’m starting to believe is most of them) to make this opinion law by referencing it in some wider reaching periodical.

Come on Bon Appetit, do what’s right and fix your crappy journalism by actually doing some work on the story. I’m issuing you a challenge. Write a good story on beer packaging. Your readership deserves it.

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