Different brewers are handling the rapid growth of the craft beer marketplace in different ways. Some are rushing to expand their on-site brewing capabilities to keep up with demand, like the folks over at Oskar Blues, who make delicious beers that Don can no longer get. Why can’t he get them? Because like many other brewers (Dogfish Head, Flying Dog, Avery, etc.), Oskar Blues has pulled out of under performing markets (like Idaho) as demand swells for their wares in stronger markets (like New Jersey, for instance). So I get the good stuff and Don gets screwed. Sounds good to me! 🙂
The folks over at Schlafly’s have come up with a different strategy to handle the surge in popularity that craft beer is enjoying; Have someone else brew the beer.
In 2009, Schlafly’s brewed about 30,000 barrels of beer, and this year rising demand has pushed output up to 42,000 barrels. The brewing capabilities at their Maplewood, Missouri Bottleworks and St. Louis Tap Room are maxed out, and they’re not ready to invest in expanding just now. They say it’s because they don’t want to overextend themselves financially, but I think that’s only one piece of the puzzle. They are currently looking for investors for the brewery, and taking on a load of debt would probably make them less attractive to potential suitors.
So instead of doling out for an expansion, they are turning to Backpocket Brewery in Coralville, Iowa and the Blackstone Brewery in Nashville, Tennessee to brew their stuff for them. But unlike typical contract brewing arrangements (here’s my recipe, brew my beer) Schlafly’s is has a couple of aces in the hole. Schlafly alumni.
Jacob Simmons used to be part of Schlafly’s quality control lab and now works at Backpocket Brewery in Iowa, and Dave Miller at Blackstone Brewery in Nashville used to be the head brewer at Schlafly’s St. Louis Tap Room. Both men are uniquely qualified to brew to the Schlafly standard, even if they aren’t in the Show Me State (EDIT: Had this as the “Keystone State” until a smart reader pointed it out – I’m a moron!). In addition, Schlafly’s has taken care to make sure everything else is up to spec, right down to the composition of the water.
The reason I’m writing about this is because Schlafly’s is one of my favorite brands of beer – everything I’ve had from them has always been at least very good and at times very special. I hope that this goes off without a hitch and they don’t mess with the quality that I’ve begun to take for granted.
As we talk about the craft beer bubble, I think this is a pretty prudent way to keep up with demand without getting left holding the bag if the bubble goes “pop!”
In the end, the test is in the taste. If the beer is good, then it’s all good. And if you’re in St. Louis, don’t worry – you’ll only get the homegrown stuff.