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Posted December 19, 2013 by keif in beer

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly… Beer

Let us start out but saying this is not an article badmouthing any kind of beer. Be it a cheap domestic or some fancy style beer–they are what they are. The cheaper domestics are what our parents and grandparents grew up with, because, let’s face it, they didn’t have much of a choice. But now with the craft brewery explosion, we have found ourselves having several conversations along these lines:

You know that <craft style> made by <great or popular craft brewery>? And what’s with <smaller craft brewery> making fifteen different beers every other week? And what happened to <craft brewery that went under>?

Just because you like a craft brewery doesn’t mean it won’t suck.

Oh yeah, I went there. If you’re like us, you fell in love with craft brewery, maybe through an introduction from a friend, maybe because you tried a Sam Adam’s brew that didn’t have “lager” in the title, and you said “there’s something to this beer thing” and decided, “Chili Beer? Why not!” Bravo, my friend, bravo.

But… sometimes we give a brewery a little too much credit. Take Christmas Ales – Thirsty Dog’s 12 Dogs of Christmas and Great Lakes Christmas Ales are two beers that people seem to go batshit over. “Oh, last year’s was better.” “Oh, the brewer at Great Lakes went to Thirsty Dog, so it’s clearly superior.” Or maybe, they both suck.

I’m not picking on Christmas Ale, but I always felt that argument is a great kick-off point. I love me some IPAs. And stouts. And Pale Ales. And Trappists. But then I come across a beer style and try it, and I just say “a big bucket of nope”–*cough*Punking*cough*–something that maybe a taste is enough, but I sure as hell don’t want a bomber. Or maybe it’s just god awful, like an array of fruit flavored beers (“Apricot wheat? How can I lose! OH GOD IT’S JUST APRICOT…”).

But that’s just me. That’s my taste. Sure, it makes me second guess my brother in Colorado when he says “TRUST ME… try this apricot beer.” I fight the urge. Fine. I’ll order it with my flight. I sip it… not bad. I drink it. Wow, that’s pretty good! I order a pint of it. DAMN. Why can’t people be copying this?! So I had to lift my “I’ll skip those beers.”

Because they may have one, they go quantity over quality.

I’m not going to name names here, but some breweries I’ve been to in a couple states focus way too much on quantity over quality. They made a brew or two that got picked up as being “awesome” and people go apeshit. Maybe they make it a seasonal (Great Lakes Christmas Ale accounts for 20% of their revenue. And it’s available for EIGHT. WEEKS.). Maybe they try to make it year round (looking at you, Fat Tire). But some of these places, they may have one beer they always have on tap, and then a rotating tap of fifteen beers that may or may not become a thing.

Variety ain’t bad.

I’m not saying a selection isn’t bad, but when you spend all your time jumping around, are you really putting your passion in to that brew? Or are you trying to get one that just goes crazy, so you try to duplicate it again, but then the second batch isn’t as good, so you let it go? I feel like you’re just throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks… Hell, maybe you’ve got a dozen brewers going crazy and you just let whoever get their shit on tap with your label’s blessing.

I hope not.

It’s a BRUTAL business.

Breweries and brewpubs are a brutal game. I’ve found varying figures I won’t bother posting (10% are successful, 25% are…), but I think the thing I’ve noticed from most people I’ve talked to is: they don’t think about the business. It’s a hobby that they’re trying to make money on. It’s like watching Kitchen Nightmares–I wanted to do it, so I did it without thinking about it. Or worse, “my product will be awesome so I won’t need to worry about it!” I think the best experience I’ve had meeting people at breweries was talking to the guys at North High Brewing. I can sum up the conversation as “I just run the business, he brews the beer. I enjoy the beer, but I don’t mess with that.” That’s a great partnership.

That keeps it from being like breweries in other places, where when I come back to town–same spot, new name, new owners, new brews. After only a few years. Why? Poor planning.

I’m not trying to rag on anyone’s dreams, but I hope that just because you nail a beer that people love, you don’t expand and try to go national just because you’re selling out today. Keep selling out. Wait until there is a consistent, nationwide demand. Hell, it worked for Yuengling, and their beer was something I watched hipsters in New York fight over in comparing it to PBR. Growth is hard to judge, especially in this boom of craft beer and brew pubs, and I’m hesitant to fall in love again, only to watch a favorite disappear because of poor planning.



Keif is a ecommerce web consultant and fan of beer, wine, fine spirits, the art of the home brew, and fine smokes. Favorite Beer: tends to fall around stouts and I/PAs Favorite Wine: Port Favorite Microbrew: The city of Columbus, Ohio. All of it.