That was the Director of Brewers Association (BA) Paul Gatza’s message to brewers at
the opening ceremony for the 2012 Craft Brewers Conference (CBC). CBC is the crafts beer industry annual event that first started in 1984 at the Fairmount Hotel in Denver, Colorado. Back then there were only a few handful of craft breweries and the market was totally controlled by the big dragons. A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking to David Walker, Co-founder of Firestone Walker Brewing Company. I asked him what is was like back in those days. How were they treated by the big breweries. He said that they were look at as something the cat dragged in. Much has changed since then. The 2012 conference, here in sunny San Diego (that has not shown it’s best side these past few days weather-wise) have broken all records. About 4500 attendees, 600 from all over the world including Sweden and a huge amount of beer events all over town. The conference offers seminars on how to start a brewery, alcohol laws, selling beer and how to brew a Berliner Weisse. At the trade show you can buy hops, malt, tap-handles and if you have a location you can probably walk out of here with a complete brewery ready for brewing beer on Monday. Being a beer industry conference there is of course plenty of beer to sample.
Paul Gatza had a run-through of the state of the beer industry. Looking at the number it looks good, really good. The craft beer industry is growing and more breweries are opening. Breweries are finding new ways to stand out like combining there brewing operations with hotel, campground etc. Tap-rooms in combination with a brewery has become a very important part of reaching out to customers and it’s also creating important revenue. In countries like Sweden the law doesn’t allow that. Many brewpubs are adding capacity and are starting to package and sell locally. The local connection is essential for many craft breweries. Many small craft breweries have now ambition at all to grow and are perfectly happy with selling their beer locally. A question that comes up frequently is “how long can this go on?”. The wine industry has been growing for many years and with new vineyards coming and going. The craft beer segment only have about 5% of the total beer market so there are plenty of room to grow, at the cost of the big breweries of course. But there is also an export market wide open for American craft breweries. US beer exporting grew 86% 2011. BA has an export program to promote American beer in the rest of the world. BA appointed Andreas Fält from Sweden the American Craft Beer Ambassador in Europe. There is of course plenty opportunities domestically. Draft beer is growing fastest which means that people like to go out and have their beer. The high-end market (high priced foods and goods) in America is growing and craft beer can be part of that. Craft beer have also been able to reach the Millenians which the big breweries hasn’t.
There are of course also a few clouds in the sky. Replacing and finding new brewers is starting to get harder. Federal and state regulations are always a worry for any business. Instability hops and malt deliver has been a worry for many years. In some markets the option of wholesalers are decreasing which makes it harder for breweries to get good distribution. The beer community and the relationship between the breweries has always been of respect for each other and little competition. There has been signs of this slowly changing. Paul’s message was clear, stop fighting! It can effect the whole business.