Guest article by Jamie Floyd, co-founder of Ninkasi Brewing
2014 was a another great year for beer. We saw a lot of new breweries open up and get out in the market. It is still amazing to see the access to market new brewers have gained over the past few years. We now have more breweries in the US than we did before the Prohibition era. Creatively brewers continue to excite beer lovers with new ideas. Craft Beer enthusiasm continues to become more mainstream which I think is great. In the early days there might be one Craft Beer drinker in a social group of friends that love Craft Beer while their friends drank Macro beer. Now not just in the NW but nationwide social groups now have many Craft Beer Enthusiasts while the number of friends who still drinks macros dwindles. These are the influencers in society that get others to follow new trends and I am happy to see the tide change to having Craft Beer be the norm! Most of my thoughts will cover the industry of Craft Brewing rather than what styles were hot and what is coming as I am sure others will share their thoughts and I think it is important for the Craft Beer Enthusiast to get a perspective of what it is like to own a brewery.
Macro beer makers are starting to sweat it as their market share continues to decline even as the population of beer drinkers grows. Brand loyalty is no longer the way beer is sold in America and these larger breweries are not getting new drinkers at the rate they used to enjoy. We have seen their response with a heavy push on the Cider segment and also trying to get some of the Craft market by purchasing other breweries. We have seen a few recently which I won’t go into depth with given the likelihood others will talk about it but I do see in 2015 and beyond continued buyouts. It is tough for the Craft purest to see their favorite breweries go through this but it is important to remember that owning and growing a brewery is very difficult. Starting a brewery is easier than it used to be but since the most recent economic downturn banks are lending money but they have much more stringent repayment terms and there is a ton of Private Equity companies trying to get in the beer game. As more breweries run into these issues the more we will see some continued ownership changes. As a proudly independent brewery owner I still have sympathy for these breweries who have to make these decisions.
To add to the pressure we have seen Wholesalers continue to buy each other out or get bought by macro breweries. Though I hear of some new Wholesalers opening up, I think that the rate of consolidation will outpace the new operators meaning less people selling thousands of new breweries. New breweries who dream of seeing their beer packaged on the shelves of grocery stores will see that the competition for that shelf space is going to increase. Our industry needs more help in selling all of this beer. Wholesalers will continue to build huge books of beer that they can’t manage to all of their suppliers desires and this will be hard on new breweries who do not see this coming before they sign the dotted line as the contracts are written in a way that doesn’t give the brewery the leverage to negotiate better terms.
The next big thing in beer will be Quality. Local has been the big trend in beer the last couple years. With so many breweries folks are drinking what is made the closest to them. As more and more breweries open some will make beer that many consumers will get to taste a lot of beer with mixed quality. As more and more of this beer hits the market I think Quality will start to be more important than locality. The Craft beer Industry amazing in that people care about the beer we all drink and there is much work being done to try to help the entire industry with quality issues. I sit on the Board for the Oregon Brewers Guild and it is one of the main strategies we have for the next few years to try to raise quality with an all boats float belief that we can all make good beer and keep Craft the best it can be. The Guild is working on ways to get info to its entire membership to bolster Oregon beer! On the National front I sit on the Brewers Association Technical Committee and in a similar vein a new Sub Committee on Quality that I am a member of and they we are working on a similar plan to educate as many new brewers about what Quality means to the consumer and the brewer. How they are similar and different and how we can work to provide as many resources as possible. The BA is looking at a way to get affordable lab work and brew house consultants to breweries with less resources. This is one of my favorite parts of being in the beer business is the pride we have in all of us not just our own brewery.
Last year at Ninkasi we were able to finish a many year expansion and hire a solid staff to settle into the next many years. We won’t be building a brewery on the East Coast or Europe but rather focus on our company culture and making tasty beers. The last two years we have largely focused on our lager program and I am stoked to finally bring a lifelong dream of making lager beers year around with the release of Lux Lager as a year round Flagship beer. We are also bring Dawn of The Red IRA back as a Flagship beer starting in February. We will also be producing likely 20 or so new creative beers and thank all of our fans for your patience while we were in construction. We are super excited to focus on creativity more than construction. After a malty Winter so far we are releasing a new hoppy beer called This is Why I’m Hop that has Citra, Centennials and Mosaics in it. We have a new Collaboration with Devils Backbone out of Virginia. It is an Imperial Roggenbier called Devil Went Down to Oregon. I am going out there to brew it with them next week for their release as well. We have Tim making his Belgian Triple again and Rich brewing his Strong Belgian Style IPA in the next couple months to name a few. We are excited for the other treats we have in store for you in 2015!
One thing I know for sure is that 2015 will be filled with tasty beers shared with friends and that what this is all about!