THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Craft Beer + Success = Successful Craft Brewers?

by Harvey Gold on June 24, 2011

There’s all this talk about BIG DISTRO BREWERIES buying up our favorite regional Craft Brewers. There’s also the question of what happens when a fine craft brewer grows “TOO BIG.” What exactly is too big?

I have a history as a musician and music lover, and we always run into the FAN pathology where we love something beyond belief when we think it’s a secret that belongs to “us.” Whatever the definition of  “us” may actually be, what we do know is that it’s not “everybody.” Once our faves start to enjoy some success, however, and we feel we’re losing our personal ownership of them, we complain they’ve sold out and gone straight to hell.

Neil Young

Sometimes that’s true, but other times it gives them the latitude to do even more of what it is we loved about them in the first place. Two examples that come to mind are The Clash and Neil Young.

Neil has NEVER, EVER compromised. He just does what he feels like. Good example: after having a big hit in 1975 with his album Zuma, one that Rolling Stone lauded as a “HE’S BACK” release, loud, driving and electric, he followed this big success in 1976 with…American Stars and Bars, with a couple exceptions (notably, Like a Hurricane) a laid back country album. He’s done this forever. I won’t say I like everything he’s released, but I will say he’s become a hero of mine with his fearlessness.

The Clash

After enjoying broad based success with their seminal album, “London Callingproducing FM radio hits with their brand of Punk with Brains, “London Calling,” “Clampdown,” “The Guns of Brixton,” and “Lost in the Supermarket,” The Clash followed this success, this ultimate tweaking of their brand of killer rock with none other than “Sandinista.” I’m convinced they made a decision early on to run the recording machines all the time and simply release everything they recorded. There’s some good stuff here, some awful stuff here, but the fact that they released a 3 record set like this was totally balls to the wall.

But going back to craft beer, I think it’s wrong to think that size matters. I’m thinking about Goose Island being bought by Anheuser Busch, as an example of one, and Dogfish Head, and Samuel Adams of the other, big craft brewers who done good out there.

The moment the news hit about Goose Island, the boys tweeted that their brew pubs were going to stay open, and they were going to continue to do cool stuff. A couple months later, I tried and have reviewed their wonderfully odd one-off Belgian Sour, “Dominique.” They continue to make an IPA with great drinkability and give us every reason to say “So far, so good!”

Dogfish Head will try anything & everything with a ferocious sense of purpose and art. Big, lots of distro, a TV series, money and power… and they still recently pulled their famous 120 minute IPA out of distribution for a lengthy time, because they didn’t like how the last batch tasted and wanted to mess with it a bit. Awesome.

Then there’s what got me started on this rant. Sam Adams is another big and ubiquitous brewery. So what do they do with their enormous production and distro? Safely dumb it down? Not a chance. Recent notable examples of what makes a brewer a Brewer, their Longshot Series, even putting the faces of their winning home brewers on the labels and sending off six packs with three different brews in each. One this year was a lavender, another “Blackened Hops,” reviewed as a favorite of ours.

More? The Latitude 48 Box. If you like their Latitude 48, you’ll love this educational set with 2 single hop brews of each of the 5 used in making Latitude 48. A veritable brew tutorial for the palate in the form of a 12 pack box. How cool is this?

Oh, did I forget to mention big brewer Sierra Nevada’s Beer Camp? Really.

And all these brewers accept the leadership roles they’ve earned and continue to support craft beer in general, collaborating with fellow brewers on crazy, delicious, deviant beverages, working painstakingly on small production high-end recipes and bottle conditioning along with their popular Lagers, Ales, and IPAs.

Craft beer is a state of mind and I’m thrilled to see examples of how that can’t always be bought…out. I’m sure there are other, less inspiring stories, but there always are. If you have one, please share as these will always serve as cautionary tales. But in the meantime, to our friends above…Rock on.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason July 16, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Just came across your article through an old message on Twitter. Cool site!
Reg. your editorial I agree that Goose Island’s beer still may be good but in some ways it comes down to a choice of what kind of craft breweries we as consumers want to support. Given how AB Inbev (Budweiser) and MillerCoors is trying to knock out craft beers very insidiously at markets, drug stores and on tap through mass produced domestic beer in craft clothing (i.e. Shocktop and Blue Moon) I don’t think it’s as clear cut of a proposition. I don’t shop at WalMart because I disagree with their business practices. This is a similar situation. Below is a link to our take on the Goose Island acquisition and some of the related issues on the politics of beer.
Cheers!
Jason Stinnett
President
Beers In Paradise/www.beersinparadise.com
http://www.beersinparadise.com/?p=4001

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Johnny B September 14, 2011 at 8:40 pm

Check out the local artist! http://www.99bottlesofbeerproject.com

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