Lately, when I’m at a bar, or stopping by to the store to stockpile my beer fridge, I’ve noticed things aren’t quite the same as they used to be. My favorite beer is sandwiched between labels I’ve never seen, from breweries I’ve never heard of. Glance to the right, and I see shelves with kombucha beer and hard root beer flavors. To my left, I see handfuls of collaborations from all over. It’s a craft beer lover’s dream, and something tells me, even as our nation surpasses top historical brewery counts, we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg.
If you wake tomorrow and read about the newest beer featuring Peanut Butter and Jelly flavors, would you be surprised? It seems weekly something new is emerging with craft beer. It’s so commonplace, I’ve been asking, “What do you think is the next big thing with craft beer?” to anyone who will listen. I usually get a response on flavor concepts, or a dream of two breweries pairing up, but… I’ve been asking the wrong question.
When we look at trends and advancements in the brewing industry, we can’t help but be impressed. Future generations might look back and equate this time in craft beer to cavemen discovering fire. It’s not about flavors and styles; it’s about the entire industry. We’re literally in a craft beer renaissance.
Looking back 100 years, you can literally see the creation of the industry. Since Prohibition was repealed in the United States, brewers have continued to push the boundaries of brewing. During WWII, a British naval ship was converted into a floating brewery to provide beer for soldiers and allies. In the 70’s, hops were developed in Oregon, setting the standard for aroma and flavor. The first Great American Beer Festival hosting a gathering of 20 breweries was over 20 years ago. As little as four years ago, craft beer made up 6.5% of sales and now it’s reached a double-digit percentage share. We’ve come a long way, my friends.
The hoppiest months in 2013 were May and July as Alabama and Mississippi, the last two states prohibiting homebrewing, became legal. Since then, the hobby has seen exponential growth. With more than 38,000 members, the American Homebrewers Association (AHA) estimates more than one million Americans are brewing some type of beer at home. And why not?! Homebrewing gives us the freedom of preference, and the ability to make delicious styles you won’t find anywhere else.
Although it’s finally legal on both federal and state levels, individual states still have a say in regulation of alcohol, which varies widely. Even owning or operating a distillation apparatus without filing the proper paperwork and paying the taxes can carry penalties. This hasn’t stopped people deeply dedicated to the craft. The AHA has many resources in place for growing homebrewing freedoms in your area. They offer services such as help with drafting bill language, mobilizing members in support for the bill, and even have staff that will testify on a bill’s behalf during committee hearings.
What used to be such a solo endeavor is now more social. Some states now allow you to share your homebrew with fellow beer nerds outside your home. Homebrew clubs are popping up left and right, hosting gatherings and annual contests. Each meet-up is sure to delight you as the explosion of craft beer intensifies year to year. You can give and get support from other brewers, you get free beer, and some offer discounts to your local homebrew supply store. The best part is you instantly have a ton of friends who will geek out as much as you do about beer.
You don’t have to have an interest in brewing to join; there are many perks to becoming a member of a group in your area. More than an excuse to drink unique beer, it’s an opportunity to influence the industry. In recent years, breweries have taken an increasing interest in homebrewers, hosting competitions for those bold enough to submit their own formulas, or by working with clubs to develop beers together. The partnership between commercial breweries and homebrewers is only natural.
If you have any experience with small business, you’re probably familiar with the term angel investor. These guys swoop in and help get those startups on their feet. In the past, angel investors stuck to the tech industry, and mostly shied away from brewery startups. Today there are websites dedicated to helping pair those willing to invest with those willing to brew. There are pros and cons of working with angel investors, but even the simplest google search reveals it’s the way many of our beloved hometown breweries are getting their legs under them.
Individuals aren’t the only ones building the industry. Craft funding is now easier than ever. There are a plethora of websites, similar to Kickstarter, with lists of craft beer startups you can support. Most states require investments for alcohol go to companies in the state you reside in, but who doesn’t love supporting local businesses? Crowd funding is still in the early stages with a long way to go, but it’s improving, just like craft beer. Industry leaders are predicting that craft beer will be a $17 billion dollar industry in less than two years. Your ground-floor opportunity is knocking.
In the last year, there have been more craft-beer mergers and acquisitions by larger breweries than one can count. Many business researchers say this spells nothing but trouble for the craft beer industry. I beg to differ. There wouldn’t be stories about mergers or media attacks on microbreweries if the macro companies weren’t scared. We have an arsenal of insanely devout craft beer lovers. The camaraderie and support of this community is outstanding, to say the least. When we see a local brewer we care about threatened, we rally behind them because it’s a part of home.
This community is getting stronger. More people are willing to invest in breweries or homebrewers, and there are more pubs dedicated to offering elusive styles. We even have social apps to connect us with others who are as passionate we are. This is likely due to the recent shift in retail. In the wake of shop local campaigns, and artisanal pop-ups on every corner, the on-trend thing is supporting local makers. What’s a better example of a local maker than craft brewers? Don’t be surprised if you see many, many more grassroots efforts to build breweries in your area. Even my childhood stomping grounds has a microbrewery now, and they didn’t even have stop lights when I was growing up.
Current breweries are perfecting their brewing processes, which should result in the market being continuously pumped with more and more amazing beers. There’s more financial support for startup breweries than ever before. There are more opportunities for craft beer to be taken to the next level. With brewers driving to innovate and create more unique styles, it’s an exciting time for craft beer.