By Bret Johnson
San Diego, CA(Hollywood Today)5/7/12/—The Craft Brewers Conference flowed knowledge and beer in panel discussions and tap handles. It was mostly networking and education for the more than 4000 attendees. Maybe that’s the 1-2 Punch for a conference’s success; add the beer factor and beer-branded apparel, this was a winner.
I sat at a table out in the sunny courtyard and was joined by Kevin from Fort Dearborn Co and he educated me on labels discussing printed paper labels compared to the ceramic printing process on the bottles and shrink wrap on cans and bottles. I was then joined by James Book of Ninkasi Brewing in Eugene, OR who gave me the quick facts about the craft brew industry. There are over 1900 craft breweries in America! 200 new ones and growing wildly like hops in springtime. He asked me how can they all last, how can they grow with so much saturation. Good question!
Like many things, the strong survive and if the beer makers around the country make great beer and get a solid following in their area, they hope to profit and grow. The next step is tough- distribution. The three-tier Direct Store Delivery (DSD) distribution system is set up so beer suppliers can sell to a distributor and the distributor sells to an account, retail store or bar. James’ main concern was making sure the entry beer, the first micro brew that a consumer tries, is a good one. He asked, “What if the first time someone tries a craft beer, one that is not a sponsor of NASCAR, isn’t good? Will they be turned off or keep trying?” I told him that if somebody likes beer, hopefully they will search for their favorite beer by always trying new beers. There couldn’t be a better place to do that than at this conference.
All the elements about making beer were present at the conference and attendees were able to bounce from ballroom to ballroom at the resort to listen and absorb quality information to support the growth of the craft beer industry. To see more: Craft Brewers Conference http://www.craftbrewersconference.com/
At one panel discussion I heard a panelist tell aspiring and experienced beer makers, “Google is the best place to get a local story out to the masses since the large beer companies take up so much advertising space to promote their brands. Find your community, get local press and push it out via the internet so others know about you.” Like the Wild Goose Cannery hosting a one-hour event with free beer so they can demo their bottling/canning production system and there were several of those happening. The message: do what you can to get in front of people to grow your business in ways that make sense to the brand.
It was the ultimate keg party with classroom etiquette and the premier event occurred Thursday night. Imagine almost 200 beers on tap in one outdoor patio area and not at a bar. Imagine the majority of the micro brew industry there talking beers with old friends and new ones, cups with suds in hand. The long list of beers from all over the country was mind-boggling and an impressive way for beer makers and brewery employees to share their passion and express their opinion.
Let’s say the men restrooms was busier than the women’s. Meg Gill, a Yale grad, is a beacon for encouraging more women to jump into the fermentation tank and join into the boys’ club of beer with the likes of New Belgium Brewing co-founder and pioneer, Kim Jordan. Meg is now the youngest female brewery owner in the world and previously worked at Oskar Blues Brewery out of Colorado, the home state of New Belgium (Fat Tire), and Speakeasy Ales and Lagers from San Francisco.
I spoke to Jason Armstrong about opening new markets and finding the right consumer. He works for the 18th largest brewery in the nation and the 11th largest craft brew, Stone Brewing from San Diego where they are challenged by Karl Strauss Brewing. Stone hit 149,000 barrels last year with nine (9) beers with 5-6 special releases and collaborations. Like last year they collaborated with Alchemist Brewery in Vermont and Ninkasi in Oregon to create a beer with profits going toward the flood relief in Vermont where Alchemist’s facility was severely damaged. He says Stone is currently in 14 to16 markets and expanding. The biggest outside of SoCal are Texas, Colorado and Ohio.
It seemed like no matter where a brewery was located, it was in the middle of expansion. Garrett Marrero from Maui Brewing Co said he came out for the conference and had to rush back to the island to continue on their expansion. Expanding is necessary and a risk. The equipment is expensive and betting on the future of each brewery’s flagship beer plus new releases is challenging. The majority of micro brews are sold on-premise (bar, restaurant, tavern) via kegs and then the next steps are decisions about bottling or canning, size, label design, transportation, sales reps, tasting room, and so on. There was a guy wearing a shirt that said “Good Head Beer” and he was looking for distributors to discuss importing that popular beer from Australia.
To put this in perspective, over 90% of beer sold in America is either Budweiser (owned by Euro-based AB-InBev) or MillerCoors (SAB Miller combined forces with Molson Coors Brewing Co). According to Beer Marketer’s Insights, the two leading domestic brands for each company put up huge numbers. Coors Light sales were 18.3 million barrels in 2011, while Budweiser sales were 17.7 million barrels (data includes Puerto Rico and exports).
The overall domestic beer sales in 2011 were about $96 billion selling 199,937,239 barrels of beer. The craft brewing sales share in 2011 was 5.7% by volume and 9.1% by dollars selling an estimated 11,468,152 barrels of beer in 2011.
For comprehensive information, check out: http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/business-tools/craft-brewing-statistics/facts
The Brewers Association that put on the CBC defines an American craft brewer as:
- Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less.
- Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
• Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
The industry in and around LA is really growing rapidly. There are several names out there that you might not have heard but you will soon. Breweries like: Noble Ale Works in Anaheim, Golden Road in Glendale, Hangar 24 in Redlands, Eagle Rock Brewery and Manhattan Beach Brew Co.
Jamie Floyd of Ninkasi Brewery told me, “I just had an hour conversation with a competing distributor in the Seattle area. He approached me to say that I am his favorite beer maker regardless that they didn’t sell our beer. I love this place, the compliment was so nice to get but the conversation started with beer then music then food then cool bars and events… it’s so great to gather and share in sunny San Diego.” Ninkasi is one of the fastest growing micro brews in the country and hit the 60,000 barrel mark last year.
I’ve decided that I am going to continue looking for my favorite beer, try many and enjoy life. One of my best friends always says, “eat, drink and be marry, for tomorrow we die.” Enjoy life with a good beer! Meet me in Maui for a CoCoNut Porter? Cheers!
Craft Brewers Conference
May 2-5, 2012
Town & Country Resort
San Diego, CA