I keep seeing ads on television for Nostradamus and others’ predictions that the world will end in 2012, so I guess it’s time to get cracking on my own vague, hare-brained predictions. First of all, I do not believe the world will end on December 21, 2012 so you can stop planning your end of the world blow-out parties and put away that R.E.M. CD. It’s time once again to look into the crystal malt ball and try to divine the future. Let’s see if anything that happened last year can be used to predict what might happen in the beer industry in 2009. Here are five things I think will happen this year. Let’s see how I do a year from now. What are your predictions?
Collaboration Beers: 2009 will be the year of the collaboration beer, a trend that’s been building for the past few years. But this year I think you’ll see a steep rise in the number of breweries pairing up with one another to do a special beer together.
Food & Beer Goes Mainstream: Last year I predicted 2008 would be the year of the beer dinner, and I think that was largely correct. I was invited to more beer dinners in the first quarter of last year than the entire year before that, and not because my popularity as a dinner guest grew. More restaurants discovered just how well beer and food work with one another and, perhaps more importantly, some culinary schools finally started including beer in their curricula (it’s a sad fact that most only teach students about cooking with wine and pairing it, a decidedly narrow-minded, elitist philosophy). With so many successful experimenters last year, it seems almost inevitable that we’ll see beer pairings on menus, special dinners and an increased use of beer as an ingredient from not only more fine stand-alone restaurants, but also some chains, too.
Merger Shakeouts: Many people have been putting their heads in the sand, saying that the recent mergers will have no effect whatsoever for consumers or small brewers. This year they will finally be proven wrong. For some time now, distributor consolidations have been on the rise and have been making it tough for some smaller breweries to gain access to market or to have their brands adequately represented in the marketplace. With the Coors/Miller merger and the InBev acquisition of Anheuser-Busch, this will be the year what that means will come dramatically into focus as the distributor adjustments, mergers, closings, etc. settle out. I believe this will continue to make things difficult for small brewers trying to bring their beer to market or increase their distribution to new areas, but time will tell. It may, of course, create opportunities for self-distribution or new boutique distributors to be created with small portfolios of craft beers.
Beer Prices Will Continue To Rise: Access to most hop varieties and all malts seem secure, though prices will continue to remain high, causing additional price adjustments throughout the year. It will be two more years before acreage newly planted last year will be at full yield. Between that and rising energy costs and price going up for virtually everything, it’s inevitable that the price of beer will go up again. I think the major companies will try their best to keep prices down as best they can, but it’s going to be difficult for them to continue with rzor-thin margins, especially with the rising costs plus at least one having to pay of the largest cash-buyout in history.
New Drys’ Attacks Will Be More Aggressive: As we saw in 2008, Neo-Prohibitionists will use almost any tactic to further their agenda. They really ramped up their attacks on drinking society and showed just how far they were willing to go to remove alcohol from society. I think we’ll see that played out more and more and no doubt we’ll see many states tax structures targeted as the economy tanks, with alcohol used as a convenient scapegoat to pick up the tab for years of fiscal irresponsibility not of their making. Beer will again, as usual, take the major brunt as the New Drys perceive it the greater threat because of its popularity. As the backlash of their failed policies continue with new common sense suggestions of returning the drinking age to 18 to be in line with the rest of the civilized world will expose them to more and more criticism, and hopefully more and more politicians will be emboldened to ignore their bullying tactics, but sadly that may still a few years in the future.