Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Why Don't You Pass the Time By Playing A Little Solitaire?*

I came across an article in the North Carolina-based online magazine Triangle Business Journal, that takes an interesting look at the possibilities of craft beer bubble in that state's "Triangle" area—or the area in and around Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The author, Dawn Kurry, leads her article with a quote from a lawyer, and brewery start-up advisor,  John Szymanliewicz, who operates the Beer Law Center in Raleigh.
"If you’re making less than good beer or if you’re not totally engaged and managing your business intelligently and actively, you may be at risk for being subsumed in a ‘bubble’ burst...”
He adds later in the article, “If you’re not making good beer, I think the market will quickly show you the door…"

Kurry also interviewed Bart Watson, an Economist with the Brewer's Association. He assures Kurry that the growth of the craft industry within, the Triangle follows the national growth of steady increase.
“I see very little signs that this is a bubble in the Triangle...There is increased support for local product and support for small, local, independent businesses. I don’t see that going away. Across the nation, producers are putting out a more innovative product than ever before. The variety is pretty incredible.”
Here where it gets interesting. At it's heart, the article isn't really about a bubble. It's about the Brewer's Association jingoism, and their "It's all good" mantra—although I don't know if that was the authors intention. It all becomes clear when she asks one really important question. Does variety and innovation mean the beer is good? 

Szymanliewicz's response:
"…I do think that there’s a lot of good beer out there right now. Is it great beer? I’m not so sure.”
Watson's response:
“Quality is always a concern, but craft beer lovers are more educated than they ever have been”
Szymanliewicz gets it, but I think the Brewer's Association is missing the point—or ignoring it for their own rhetoric. Leading off the response by saying "Quality is always a concern" reads that quality really isn't that big of a concern—at least not to the BA. "More educated than they ever have been" is brainwashing mumbo-jumbo—an attempt to get people to drink the "anything-goes-in-the-craft-beer-world-as-long as-it's-local-and-independent–but-you-already-know-that-because-you're-cool-and-smart" Kool-aid—than anything else. 

I understand towing the party line, and the Association's job is to advocate for American "craft brewing" but lock-stepping over a cliff seems a bit counterproductive. 

In the article, Watson defines a a bubble as "A period of over-investment where asset prices aren’t aligned with reality. In other words, people are betting on a future that won’t exist." But, isn't trying to convince people that the craft beer industry will sustain itself on an ever-increasing number of micros, brewpubs, and nanos, who build their business on a foundation of a "variety" of over-priced gimmicky, moderate-at-best, yet "innovative" beer—that are of course local and independent—exactly "betting on future that won't exist?"

*Just curious, does anybody get this headline?


  1. But what is good, Craig, what is great? How do you define that?

    I think absence of quality to BA, especially given its history, means things like making beer with a high degree of adjunct and not enough hops, making unstable beer, making beer from malt extract, using artificial flavorings, that kind of thing. At least there is a bright line there but will someone who doesn't like IPA like a great one but not a good one...?


  2. It's not about if someone likes IPA or not, at all.

    The BA isn't a consumer advocacy group, it's a brewer's advocacy group. If they can convince the beer drinking public that locally-sourced, "innovative" beers that is what is important, then quality is irrelevant.

    They are taking the tact that if brewery is small, local, and independent then they get a free pass on making crappy beer. The BA isn't concerned about the beer, it's concerned about the brewers. Saying craft beer drinkers are "educated" is pandering to people's vanity.