Session #43: The New Kids

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Our 43rd Session is all about the new. Hosted by Carla Companion, better know as The Beer Babe, she’s tackling The New Kids, by which she means the many, many new breweries that have started up in the last couple of years.

Here’s how she explains it:

Picture yourself starting school, on a cool, crisp September day. Only, you’re not as excited as you usually are because you’re starting at a new school. No one knows who you are, groups of friends are already established, and you have nightmares about getting lost in the hallways trying to find your next class. How will you ever fit in?…

In some ways, there may be a beer-world parallel to this experience: new craft breweries joining an established beer community, or even tougher, breaking into a non-craft beer town.
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With the astounding growth of the number of craft breweries this year, chances are there’s a new one in development, or has just started out in your area. My challenge to you is to seek out a new brewery and think about ways in which they could be welcomed into the existing beer community. How does their beer compare to the craft beer scene in your area? Are they doing anything in a new/exciting way? What advice, as a beer consumer, would you give to these new breweries?

Take this opportunity to say hello to the new neighbors in your area. Maybe its a nanobrewery that came to a festival for the first time that you vowed to “check out” later. Maybe it’s a new local beer on a shelf on the corner store that you hadn’t seen before. Dig deeper and tell us a story about the “new kids on the block.” I look forward to welcoming them to the neighborhood!

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She’s certainly right about the sheer number of new breweries. It defies logic, the economy and conventional wisdom about both. At every measure, at a time when most businesses are flat at best, the number of craft breweries continues to rise. In the past four years, over 250 new breweries have opened. How awesome is that? According to the BA’s wonderful brewery detective Erin Glass, roughly one new brewery is now opening every day, with more on the way. Last year, 110 new breweries opened, but in just the first six months of 2010, 155 have opened. According to a July report by the BA, Director Paul Gatza speculated that there could conceivably be 250 new brewery openings by the time the apple drops on Times Square signaling the end of this year.

And according to Gatza, “[i]t isn’t just an increasing number of nanobreweries, either. [Though frankly, I love the trend of Nano- and Pico-breweries.] We are seeing strong growth in the traditional brewery openings—you know, a business plan for a microbrewery or brewpub that gets out of the planning phase and into operation.”

And last year, Erin was tracking about 260 brewery project at various stages of development. Today the number she’s following is 389. Could we hit 2,000 breweries in America in the next few years? It sure seems possible, even inevitable. Imagine what might happen if (or when, trying to sound hopeful) the economy turns around.

Mid Year Graph

Fourteen years ago, in 1996, it felt like we’d hit a wall. After a number of years of remarkable growth, more breweries began to close than were opening. The numbers looked bleak. The Craft Brewers Conference was a far more somber — dare I say sober — affair than it had been in earlier in that decade. But then things began to turn around. Slow but steady growth began in the late 1990s and has not only continued from that time, but even picked up speed.

Given the increases in market share by craft breweries, in both volume but especially dollars — and now a sharp increase in brewery openings over the last few years — it seems clear we’re in the midst of a new wave of craft beer. Like the the first wave, craft is again the subject of media attention, is increasingly taken seriously by the business world and is being targeted more vigorously by the big beer companies.

It certainly feels like this may be our time. Twenty years ago, microbreweries were mostly alone in promoting the idea of artisanal products. Today there’s artisanal cheese, bread, coffee, charcuterie, beef, chicken, pastries, ice cream and on and on, not to mention organic farming, with its produce and fruit. The world has caught on and caught up. More and more people just get it now, and increasingly each year’s newly minted 21-year olds that add to the percentage of craft beer drinkers in greater numbers. It will be interesting to see how the next few decades play out as time squeezes out the older mainstream beer drinkers in favor of younger generations who came of age in a world where craft beer was already established.

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And those same generations are and will also responsible for a whole new group of brewers and brewery owners, too, as we’re starting to see right now. Large or small or really small, what a fun time to be drinking craft beer.

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