Here I reflect about the success of American craft brewers in an interview by a prominent international brewing publication.
Please elaborate on the revival of beer in the USA with regard to beer history and specifically with respect to Prohibition and the “democratization of beer and brewing” in the 1970s)?
What I mean by the “democratization” of beer and brewing is that fundamentally, democracy is a system by which people (consumers) determine the outcome of the structure in which they live – they make choices and things hopefully change. In the late 1970s people actually began learning about beer brewing and beer tastes and began making choices that has fundamentally changed the beer world we live in. The choices that people have made are the driving forces of the new direction that beer and brewing has taken. Choices made by beer drinkers have changed beer culture and the way we view beer in our lives. Before this period beer was driven by corporate marketing and their perception of trends that suited their manufacturing and distribution models.
What are in your opinion the reasons for the sudden popularity and positive development of the US Craft brewers “scene” in the last 10 years?
For me the most interesting thing about the U.S. Craft Brewers’ “scene” is that they have been decades ahead of other business and cultural developments. American craft brewers are still ahead of so many other business models. The whole idea of specialty brands, made by special, small and independent companies was a pioneering idea in the 1970s. The idea of supporting local, small and community based companies was novel in the 1970s through the 1990. Only recently have food and other specialty products taken a page out of the U.S. small & independent brewers playbook.
On a parallel thought, I have been a member and participant of Slow Food since 1996 and started the first convivium in the USA. I realized that many elements of the vision Slow Food had for food and beverage, American small brewers had already succeeded in developing. I think Slow Food leaders at that time also recognized this and embraced what we were doing. You can see that their annual show, Salone del Gusto in Torino, has grown from 2 craft beer booths in 1998 to the excitement of 40 or 50 international craft beer themed exhibits. Another positive development is the growing interest in food and beer. That is to say cooking with beer and also accompanying beer with different kinds of food. It is a science and an art that both brewers, culinary fans, chefs and beer drinkers are discovering and really enjoying
The other very unique thing that is a part of the craft brewing scene is that very few small and independent brewers have a desire to sell to Big Beer companies. The founders continue to be engaged and love the beer business they are still developing. They also recognize that it is a lot of hard work and that it takes a long time to be successful. A longer time than most large companies are willing to wait before they get a return on their investment.
In summary I think the combination of being visionary, dreamers, pioneers, dedicated to quality, understanding business, technical and growth and the challenges ahead are positive developments that American small brewers are fully engaged in.
Is this popularity only a perception or can it be proved statistically?
I think you only have to look around you. Go to any restaurant, bar, pub, beer store – you see changes everywhere you go.
What is the secret of the success of US craft brewers?
There are no secrets. At the Brewers Association’s Craft Brewers Conferences you see tremendous amount of sharing of information, technology, marketing perspective, political discussions and assistance offered between brewers. US Craft Brewers realize that they do not compete against each other. They are only 6.5% of the production volume in the U.S. The competition is other beverages and other “treats” that people value. They’ve done a great job of communicating value for their generally and necessarily higher priced beer and beer drinkers understand this. Working together and understanding that the competition is not the other brewery is fundamental. This is a hard lesson to learn for foreign visitors observing the American craft brewing “scene.”
Can you show this positive development on the basis of an actual craft brewery?
I would suggest that anyone interested in actual instances of what I speak of above – to go to www.craftbeer.com . This website reflects the personality of brewers and beer enthusiasts. You can read about hundreds of success stories.
What can the US craft brewers expect for the future?
They are at 6.5% market share of beer enjoyed in the USA today. They will easily surpass 10% by 2017. The American beer and brewery “scene” will change more dramatically than anyone is currently willing to take the risk to write about.