I must confess. I was in college before I saw my first computer. That means that my youth was spent in a reality that did not include computers, smart phones, or social media. Lately, I’ve been watching how we interact with the digital world and how it influences the choice to consume craft beer.
Summer is a glorious time of year indeed. The weather is nice and people turn to beer to enjoy the season. Breweries are busy filling orders and everyone is on overtime. Then every year, a bell rings and the orders suddenly slow. This bell is the school bell and it signals that summer has come to an end.
In this era of choice, it’s important to take a step back and appreciate the amazing flexibility of the brewing process. No other process can create the amount of different tastes; a wine will always taste like a wine, a spirit like a spirit, and so on. Not true when it comes to the brewing process. Fermentation can take on several different tastes depending on the yeast used, temperature of the fermentation and the time taken to ferment. The Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) looks at a brewer as someone who brews an alcohol. But that can take many forms and shapes.
Trends in the beverage industry change quickly and it can be tough to know how to address them for the success of your brewery. What drives the trends and the crowds? What motivates a customer to be brand-loyal? Does your brewery need to spend a lot of money chasing the trends in order to stay relevant? I address each of these questions and more in this post because I believe this is an exciting time to be a craft brewer and you can continue to grow by being aware of a few key things. If you can keep your finger on the pulse of the trends, you will also keep your customers.
While attending the California Craft Brewers Association 2019 Spring Meeting last week in San Diego I was struck by the number of people attending this conference. It felt well-attended and the sessions really tried to give something to everyone. There were beginning, intermediate, and advanced sessions. I finally got quantitative proof proving my point that the craft beer market is really a craft beverage market.
The Craft Brewers Conference was held in April in Denver this year. Each year this conference happens on the heels of my busy season and I’m caught up finishing the books for my clients and have time for little else. But now I’m back in the saddle and have a few things to share from the conference.
- CBC is primarily a conference for start-up breweries, with an exhibit floor.
People will always attend CBC. It is the one time of year where everyone in the industry goes to network and see the latest equipment. However, there is very little educational content at the conference for an established brewer. When mentioning this to the Brewer’s Association, they say that start-ups (and pre start-ups) are a large percentage of the attendees. So naturally it makes sense that a lot of the educational sessions are geared toward new breweries. I find it ironic however, that in the state of the industry, there was talk of saturation . . .
- Craft Ingredients are taking the exhibit floor by storm.
In retrospect, we shouldn’t be surprised. If consumers care about how the product is made, it is only natural that they (and we) will want to know where the ingredients come from. I was struck by the variety of craft maltsters and hops growers exhibited this year. I am a natural malt lover, so I was thrilled to see that there is a craft malting association. I asked if it were possible to take tours, and they told me YES. You better believe that I will be looking at their website whenever I travel.
I knew that hops grew all over. Now I’m seeing a lot of small hop growers in many parts of the country start to sell their wares. When I was getting into the business, I was told that it was cost prohibitive for anyone outside of the Yakima valley to grow hops. They had two problems: a virus that is prevalent in may parts of the country, and the cost to efficiently pelletize the harvest. People are finding solutions to these problems and we are seeing hop production all throughout the country. Keep an eye on this space:
Begin with the End in Mind
Your plans for any kind of administration should be based upon where you want to take the company. If you are going to be a “tasting room” only, that means that you will have to keep your overhead lean and mean. If you are planning for AB-Inbev to take you over in five years, then you had better plan to be an attractive target.
Congrats, you've been handed the best job in the world–the CFO of a brewery! Now how can you be successful in craft brewing? I’ve often told people that my job was the intersection of power, emotion and money. Since I wish that someone had sat me down and explained this industry and how it works, I'm sharing my experience in a regional craft brewery in ten distinct words of wisdom.
It used to be that collecting growlers from all of your favorite breweries was a fun thing to do. In fact, I had a shelf dedicated to all of my favorite breweries. Some states only allow breweries to fill growlers from their specific brewery, therefore everyone had a collection of growlers from their chosen breweries.