A wise man once said “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” Actually, it was the 80’s hair band Cinderella, but it’s still a good insight into the way things work – you usually don’t know that the best times are happening until they’ve passed you by. I’m sure Cinderella didn’t realize that they were at their pinnacle when they released that song. It’s kind of ironic, actually.
When it comes to craft beer, I think we should breathe deep and take it all in, for this is certainly the Golden Age of craft beer.
The industry is gaining steam as good beer starts to get recognized by the mainstream, creativity is flourishing, the variety of beers and the number of breweries is truly mesmerizing and continues to grow, and in most cases quality is more important than the bottom line. Great days indeed.
Not to be a downer, but I don’t think they are going to last forever. The money people will soon smell opportunity and the craft beer industry will slowly transform from a loose federation of rebels and free thinkers into a highly organized group of corporate entities. It won’t happen overnight, rather it’ll change bit by bit over the course of years. Actually, it has already begun, just look at the Craft Beer Alliance.
As the craft beer industry matures, you can expect to see corporate breweries taking fewer risks, which could lead to fewer weird and wonderful beers. Ingredient costs will also fall under the watchful eye of bean counters, which might lead to the use of inferior ingredients (or just less of the good stuff). I won’t name names, but this is already happening today.
These days, it seems there’s always a new brewery popping onto the scene making some interesting beer. This may also begin to change. It might become harder and harder for upstart breweries to compete for market share, as the larger, more established craft brewers use their clout to gain and retain shelf space. You can also expect mergers and acquisitions to shrink the number of independent breweries.
The nature of the men and women running the show will change, too. Right now, many brewers started their professional lives as something other than beer makers. Many were fed up with corporate life or felt a calling for brewing and took the plunge. They are rebels of sorts. As the industry grows, they will be joined by young men and women who set out after high school to become professional craft brewers. I’m sure the passion for making great beer will be there, but perhaps some of the rebel spirit that has fueled the current state of the industry might give way to a more considered, even-minded approach to the business of making beer.
Overall, craft beer will most likely suffer from its own success. I’m not saying all will be lost, but the current elements that make the craft beer industry feel like the Wild West or the Dot Com Boom will slowly be reeled in. Territories will be drawn. Googles will be born. Slacks will be worn.
I know this sounds like a lot of doom and gloom, but that’s not the point. I’m sure the beer will still be good, and that’s pretty important. I’m simply saying that the quirky, slightly wild industry I love will be tamed moving forward, and as a result it might be a little less special.
I just want to make sure we all take a long look at the rose while it’s in full bloom, and that we all enjoy what we got before it’s gone.