The Friendly Spirit of Craft Beer Thrives as Breweries Grow

Fast Company’s Emily Badger wrote a great piece about Asheville, North Carolina, which is quickly becoming an east coast beer mecca.

One tidbit in Emily’s article jumped out at me; how New Belgium and Sierra Nevada, both of whom are building new brewing facilities there, introduced themselves to Asheville’s established craft breweries.  From Fast Company

Both New Belgium and Sierra Nevada wanted to meet all the existing brewers in town–the folks who in any other industry might be considered their competitors–to make sure they were welcome. “This is the thing we did not understand about this industry when they first came to town, and it completely caught us off guard,” Teague says. “In my mind, if this had been any other company, they would have said ‘I don’t care what they think, I’m going to do what I want to do.”

Sierra Nevada even had all the local Asheville Brewers out to Chico in June to brew some beer together there. This industry is different in part because craft brewers have always had a certain collegiality among themselves.

This underscores one of the things that draws me to the craft beer industry – camaraderie.  It seems that brewers genuinely like each other for the most part, and work together for the common good (of making tasty beer).

I’ve had my fears that this friendly spirit might be squeezed out of the industry as funky little breweries grow into bonafide corporations and the bean counters start sharpening their pencils.

It makes sense that this isn’t happening (yet).  Just about every person I’ve spoken with who has started a brewery was running away from wearing a suit and a tie, or at least a pair of freshly pressed Dockers and a polo shirt.  Why would they turn their little oasis of non-conformity into the same sort of soul-sucking corporation they managed to successfully escape?

It’s still early in the game, and as craft beer continues to gain market share, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for successful breweries to forget their roots and turn their backs on their neighbors.  This is one of the reasons that I cringe a bit when In-Bev or MillerCoors snaps up a craft brewery – I fear that the beer might taste the same, but the culture that gave birth to it might be nickeled and dimed to death.

At any rate, it’s great to see both New Belgium and Sierra Nevada being such good citizens when they don’t necessarily have to.  They have “f-you money” if you will.  The fact that they are setting such a good example bodes well not only for us folks who love the industrious free-spirit attitude of America’s craft brewers, but also for the men and women who will be working for them.

Maybe it’s time to start looking for real estate in North Carolina…

If you haven’t read the entire Fast Company article, click here – it’s a really well done piece.

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Categories: Beer, News

Author:Jim Galligan

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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33 Comments on “The Friendly Spirit of Craft Beer Thrives as Breweries Grow”

  1. September 11, 2012 at 11:05 am #

    I just read that FastCo article. Good stuff. Like I said, come on down to AVL. Conversely, if you need an Asheville beer correspondent, I know a guy who knows words and cameras fairly OK.

    • September 11, 2012 at 11:19 am #

      I know like, words, and stuff, good…

      • September 11, 2012 at 11:22 am #

        We should totally pitch “Beers and Shit” to HBO. Breakout mid-season hit.

        • September 11, 2012 at 11:33 am #

          Love that idea. Deadwood meets Eastbound meets The Newsroom, if it happened in a brewery and Aaron Sorkin used the f-word more often…

        • September 11, 2012 at 11:43 am #

          Or for network TV: Pils Street Brews.

        • September 11, 2012 at 11:52 am #

          I’m amazed that this name hasn’t been used for a beer yet…

      • September 11, 2012 at 11:45 am #

        Also, you may need to grow a beard before coming to AVL. Just saying…

        • September 11, 2012 at 11:49 am #

          Why? NOT having one will be my signature. And also, everyone will think I’m a narc – that’s always fun!

        • September 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

          I was really impressed with AVL when I went down there with some non-craft beer buddies. I saw a pitbull drink from a bowl at a bar. I’ll never go to a biker bar again, even if they have karaoke. Loved the town though, the Wedge was the place to be in my opinion.

  2. September 11, 2012 at 11:09 am #

    I’ve had the opportunity to meet Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada on several occasions over the years. He’s an extremely nice person. His employees love him. He does things for the right reasons. I’ve only met Kim Jordan of NBB once in passing, but have heard that she’s also pretty nice and know many of her employees that have been at NBB for years and years.

    Good people do good things. That’s one of the reasons I like the beer business so much. There are so many good people involved in it. There are also some jerks, but that’s inevitable with anything.

    • September 11, 2012 at 11:20 am #

      I know…have you met my brother? :(

      • September 11, 2012 at 11:31 am #

        Obviously, I haven’t as I’m still following your blog.

        • September 11, 2012 at 11:33 am #

          :)

  3. September 11, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    As a beer traveler I have noticed this cooperative spirit just about everywhere I have been from West coast to East coast and everywhere in between. Craft brewers want to see good beer on the market whether it is theirs or not. This camaraderie is what separates craft beer from almost every other big industry, because those involved actually love what they do.

    I’ve always said that the people in craft beer make it what it is and that the actual beer is secondary to the attitude. People are generally pretty good bullshit detectors and they will sniff out those who are in it strictly for the dollar.

    • September 11, 2012 at 11:51 am #

      Hopefully it stays that way – where there’s money, there’s grubbers who wreck everything.

  4. September 11, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    One of these days I’ll have to feign disagreement with you just for the sake of argument. After all, I’m a recovering litigator who’s always enjoyed a “friendly” disagreement (even those which occasionally resulted in death threats when I was a prosecutor).

    That said, you’re right on the money. At least as far as I can see, it’s not all about the money when it comes to craft brewers. Certainly not all about making as much as possible or about competition with peers as one would suspect in most other industries. Big Beer is the common enemy and, for the most part, the rich cooperative spirit among craft brewers has played no small roll in the gains the craft beer industry has made over the past decade. You don’t have to look any further than the now growing collaboration brewsd sections of the local shops for abundant examples of the spirit that makes craft beer so much fun to experience and to follow.

    The example set by New Belgium and Sierra Nevada is yet another feather in the industries cap (though, to be fair, I don’t think either of them look to flood or otherwise exploit the local Asheville market. Their using the Asheville as a launching pad for more robust eastern domestic distribution and penetration and leveraging the strong craft beer culture of the region as well. That’s a bonus. I’ll be interested to see if Green Flash follows suit in the coming months.

    Cheers!

    • September 11, 2012 at 11:35 am #

      So far it seems it’s about lifestyle balance and a fair profit, which is what I’d like to see from a lot more companies.

      Of course, with talk like that, I should just move to France and become a socialist (this is an election year after all – let’s politicize stuff!).

  5. Brendan
    September 11, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    I tried to explain this to a person trained in a conventional business model. If going to Iron Hill introduces you to craft beer and from there you try Victory and like it, then you buy a case of Boxcar Mango Ginger IPA, how does that make those breweries competitors?

    That being said, though, there also seems to be a tipping point at which some breweries become “businesses that sell beer” rather than “brewers who sell beer.” There’s a sudden chill in the air and it’s not from the cold room.

    It’s the brewing equivalent of “jumping the shark.”

    • September 11, 2012 at 11:38 am #

      It’ll be interesting to see how much they get away with in this day of social media, etc. If these guys are being a-holes, it’ll effect sales with the craft beer faithful, but probably increase profits and be made up with mass market sales.

      I look at Samuel Adams as a model for trying to balance it all. They’re huge (by craft beer standards) and still manage to support and encourage smaller breweries and beer hobbyists.

      • September 11, 2012 at 11:49 am #

        Still, just less than a year ago, Boston Beer Company sued Anchor Brewing “over allegations that Anchor illegally poached one of their executives with the intent of stealing trade secrets.” They settled out of court. So, it seems as nice as they are, they do have a tough side.

        • September 11, 2012 at 11:59 am #

          That kind of stuff goes on a lot between many brewers, it’s just usually under the radar. Many beer name has been quietly changed after a complaint has been made, either by a lawyer or brewer to brewer. I’ve heard stories.

          Plus, Anchor is now owned by the Griffin Group, n investment group headed by two former Skyy Vodka execs, not dear old Fritz Maytag. Those guys are slick corporateers, so if they poached someone from Boston Beer, it’s gonna be gloves off.

          Fun fact, Griffin Group also owns a chunk of BrewDog, and I’ve heard that the stunts those guys get up to really aren’t about changing beer culture in the UK – they’re about selling beer and making their numbers in the USA.

  6. bdivvy
    September 11, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Couldn’t agree more about the craft beer community. After 233 brewery visits we have met so many great people who are making beer simply because they love making a great product and sharing it with friends.

    Most brewers started out as home brewers and remember what it was like getting their dream off the ground so why not reach out to your peers when they need help. I’ve heard so many stories about breweries helping each other by sharing knowledge, loaning equipment, and even sharing ingredients when in a bind.

    This is what makes the craft beer different from every other “for profit” industry. Crappy people make crappy beer. Good people don’t always make good beer, but at least you’ll enjoy drinking it with them.

    • September 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm #

      “Crappy people make crappy beer. Good people don’t always make good beer, but at least you’ll enjoy drinking it with them.”

      Now THAT’s tweet-worthy!

      • bdivvy
        September 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

        I pride myself on making bite sized declarations.

  7. Brendan
    September 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    “No matter what happens, someone will find a way to take it too seriously.” ~ Dave Barry

    • September 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm #

      Hey, I find that offense!!!!!

  8. Diss Content
    September 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    I’m afraid when two larger micros, both decide to select the same city for expansion, the cloven hoof prints of accountants and corporate bean counters are already littered around the subject.

    • September 11, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

      And a town with a good water supply and local talent is hustling like hell to land these big fish. It’s also sensible that they’re both there, as it creates synergy for tourism.

      • September 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm #

        Hendersonville (where SN is going) is nice, too. And a bit closer to me. Then there’s Oskar Blues going in Brevard, just a skip and a jump down the road as well.

        • September 12, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

          Sounds as though NC is gonna soon be THE place to go for craft beer–while NJ continues to suck hind tit. Maybe Jim could point this out in one of his Today articles.

  9. September 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    I agree with many of the commentors that this attitude is prevalent across the country. At nearly every brewery I’ve visited over the past 25 years, the brewers/owners have recommended their neighboring competition, and had generally good things to say about their fellow brewers. Examples of providing equipment, time, or ingredients when another brewer is in need are the norm, not the exception.

    We just returned from Ska’s 17th Anniversary in Durango and I think the three other breweries in town were just as excited about it.

    It will remain a culture of cooperation and support as long as the people running the show remain brewers and not suits. I think that if a brewery starts feeling the bottom line takes precedence over civility, then they won’t be in business much longer; backlash from both their fellow brewers as well as the craft beer loving public will quickly put a stop to that.

  10. September 11, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

    This craft brew business paradigm is the very one we as a nation would be wise to follow. The OCD accumulation of wealth and power we see with the current model just isn’t cutting it–its a dead end. Quality, service and cooperation–its a recipe for happiness as well as success.

  11. September 12, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    I also really enjoyed her article today. It is really cool how everyone in the craft beer community (usually) seems to be so cool! It makes everything more fun. Also, if you have not visited Asheville, NC you should sometime. I lived in a small town 20 minutes away from it for 16 years until I moved to OH, but I still visit the folks down there.

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