We’ve been talking for years about the craft beer bubble, asking whether or not we’re already past the golden age of craft brewing, a time when the industry is young and creative, and the future’s so bright, you gotta wear shades (which also help with hangovers, BTW).
Will things continue to get bigger and better, or are the good times already behind us?
Stone Brewing’s CBGO (Chief Beard Growing Officer) Greg Koch certainly thinks things aren’t quite as rosy as some might think, and he paints his outlook of the industry with a very vivid brush indeed (UT San Diego via BeerPulse ):
“We are in a time of irrational exuberance in craft brewing,” said Greg Koch, co-founder and CEO of Stone Brewing. “We are like a Third World bus, with all these people hanging on to the roof. Sooner or later, we are going to hit a bump in the road.”
I adore this quote. Not only is it a little bit snarky about the realities of public transit in less affluent countries, I can actually see what Greg says happening in my head.
The imagery holds up even when you break it down a bit. The bus is the craft beer industry, and the riders are all the breweries hanging on for their lives. Logically, the more established brewers like Mr. Koch got on the bus early, and have comfy window seats and are safely inside. It’s the emerging breweries, all the latecomers jumping on the bandwagon as it hustles by, that may only have a precarious perch up top with the luggage and Mitt Romney’s dog.
But is it a solid analogy? After all, we have yet to understand just how full the bus is at this time. It could be that there’s still lots of room for folks and their livestock in air-conditioned luxury. Also, we don’t know how big the bus will become as it continues to travel into the future. Craft beer sales continue to grow by double digits year over year, and new people continue to discover how good beer really can be. The road keeps stretching out smoothly as far as the eye can see.
But it can’t go on forever. Eventually there will be too many breweries out there, and some will begin to fail. And who knows, maybe craft ciders will become the Next Big Thing and eat beer’s lunch.
It’s impossible to predict exactly what will happen, but eventually SOMETHING will rise up from the road and cast those with the weakest grips into the weed filled ditches.
So inevitably, Koch will be right. Here’s hoping that it isn’t for a very long time.
When things do go sideways, beer geeks like us can all look back with fond memories at what was one hell of a ride.