Because we all love a good beer rant

Of course a right proper rant from Andy Thomas, CEO of Craft Brew Alliance, Monday at Beer Business Daily’s Beer Summit grabbed the headline.

But in the midst of his 45-minute presentation to something like 300 beer industry types he rolled over the rock labeled “movement” and suggested “craft beer” could eventually account for 70 percent of all beer sales. Seventy percent. At that point perhaps we might be able to agree to just call it beer.

Brewbound has the details. “Are we really doing what we can to educate consumers about brewers, styles and brands or are we confusing them so much that they will go to something that is easier for them?” Thomas said. And here’s the nut, when he draws a parallel to Starbucks and the evolution of the coffee industry. “Is this a movement and not a trend?” Are we on the cusp of a brave new world?”

Two important bits of context. First the Brewers Association does not define the CBA breweries — including Redhook Ale Brewery and Widmer Brothers, which were among the first “microbreweries” in the Northwest — as craft breweries because AB InBev owns a considerable stake of each. Second, Thomas was talking to members of the trade, not the couple at the local hamburger joint enjoying a locally brewed beer and not the guys lined up at the beer store for the latest limited release.

So on to the rant (worthy of a passage in “The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer – A Rant in Nine Acts”) as channeled through Brewbound:

“We have the honor of having two pioneering craft brands in our portfolio,” Thomas said, referencing Widmer Brothers and Redhook. “Yet, an industry association doesn’t consider us ‘craft.’ Isn’t it time that we stop acting like 13-year olds? That we stop taking ourselves too serious and start talking to consumers and retailers again?”

Thomas elaborated, drawing a link between the socialization models of young adults – the “jocks, stoners and nerds in high school” — and maturing craft brewers.

“We label; we operate in cliques,” he said. “Are you a craft brewer? Did your equity come from a certain place? Do you not use certain ingredients? Name-calling, labeling, craft versus crafty.”

And then he issued a challenge, which seems like it should be an animated gif.

“Don’t bash beer,” he said.

Thomas pled for all members of the beer industry to stop the infighting.

“Don’t elevate yourselves by cutting someone else down,” he said. “Don’t make someone question their beer.”

He emphasized his point, over and over again.

“Don’t bash beer,” he said. “Don’t bash craft beer. Don’t bash crafty beer. Don’t bash domestic beer. Don’t bash imported beer. Don’t bash light beer. Don’t bash brands. Don’t bash brewers. Don’t bash beer consumers. Don’t bash retailers or wholesalers. Don’t bash beer — celebrate beer.”

To reiterate, he wasn’t calling for everybody who talks (and writes) about beer to join hands around the campfire and sing only songs of praise. This was a message to the trade. So feel free to dis that beer in your glass if it deserves the dontdrinkbeer treatment.

10 Responses to Because we all love a good beer rant

  1. Zac January 29, 2014 at 9:41 am #

    I really don’t get why non-craft breweries/conglomerates/alliances are so worried about a segment that can’t even capture 10% of the market. Sure, craft brewers make a better product overall, but the consumers have yet to figure this out. We just got a new “natural food” grocery with a gigantic beer/wine/liquor section and there’s more BMC than anything else and I’m not even including the likes of Widmer and Redhook in that assessment.

  2. Bill January 29, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Good for Andy Thomas. I’ve always thought the picking of the name Craft Brew Alliance was an eloquently raised middle finger to the Brewers Association for the BA’s kicking them out of the club once Widmer and Redhook sold a minority share of the companies to Anheuser-Busch.

    Zac, in this case, the guy getting upset is the CEO of craft breweries in everybody’s eyes but the BA. Widmer and Redhook were some of the first wave of craft breweries (and isn’t Kona part of the CBA now?) The BA has done a piss poor job of explaining why large-company ownership is all it takes to make craft non-craft: probably because that in itself isn’t actually a reason.

    • Zac January 29, 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Bill, I get Widmer’s and Redhook’s place in craft beer history. I really do. However, maybe the fight should be more directed at changing the large-company ownership issue first. I also wonder how the CBA is participating in the craft beer community. Maybe they are, but I somehow doubt they are collaborating and sharing the way breweries like Stone do on a regular basis.

      That said, I agree that the definition of craft beer should have more to do with the ingredients and methods of brewing rather than who or what owns the brewery.

      • Stan Hieronymus January 29, 2014 at 10:35 am #

        Zac,

        It’s hard to imagine a better craft beer community member that Widmer, specifically and very humanly the brothers.

        This morning Logsdon Farmhouse Ales – quite rural, original, in the middle of nowhere, etc. – tweeted about their collaboration with Widmer. Widmer regularly collaborates with homebrewers, and offers free lab services to small Oregon breweries. Etc.

        • Zac January 29, 2014 at 11:18 am #

          Well, there you go. Now that you mention it, I do seem to remember several instances of Widmer’s participation. I guess I also don’t get Craft Beer’s (capital C & B) issue with these craft brewers. I understand promoting local and sustainable businesses, but maybe that’s a different issue and should be treated as such.

          There’s been a lot of talk in these parts about Goose Island “going corporate” while maintaining a foothold in Craft Beer. Some reject GI solely based on their InBev merger (or whatever it was). Of course, when BCS hits the shelves, all is forgiven.

  3. Oliver Gray January 29, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    I’m all for cutting down on the negativity and in-fighting. I know when dollars are involved people get nasty, but really the beer business will thrive in all sectors (craft or crafty or crusty) if we learn to play nice.

    I made Andy’s speech into a gif for you:

    http://literatureandlibation.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/andythomas3.gif

    • Stan Hieronymus January 29, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

      Thank you very much, Oliver.

      • Gary Gillman January 29, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

        Well, I don’t know, how can you explain the merits of craft beer without differentiating it from high adjunct bland beer which only bears a passing resemblance to historical styles? (Yes I know corn/rice have been used forever in U.S. brewing but that doesn’t make the resultant product, or at least the typical product as we know it in 2014, gastronomic specialty. Whereas, say, Pilsner Urquel, foundation of the light helles style, is). You don’t have to bash in the sense of put down – be nasty about it – but giving a reasoned justification for craft beer, still needed where it is not even 10% of the game, is reasonable IMO.

        On the other hand, I don’t agree with excluding beers from the craft category which taste great and traditional. Taste is the whole point. It always was for the people who chronicled the beer revival from its earliest days. E.g., CAMRA never said, don’t drink Courage Directors, they were delighted with this beer! (At least when made in Bristol). I don’t think the BA does itself any favors in the ownership issue. I understand where they are coming from, it’s an historical thing and makes sense in that light, but the days are numbered in my view to look at it that way. It is not about small business, medium-size business, big business: it is about the beer.

        Gary

        • Zac January 29, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

          Gary, I agree with you to a point. The first paragraph is spot-on. I was with you through most of the second paragraph, but the last sentence lost me. For many, it’s more than the beer. It’s about supporting small, sustainable business models that have economical, social, and ecological effects on our communities and world. Of course, that’s something that’s much bigger than beer. So, maybe I’m in the wrong place. ;)

          • Gary Gillman January 29, 2014 at 9:37 pm #

            Well, not in the wrong place, since many surely agree with you, but I don’t see it that way. Big companies often have enviable records of using clean energy and recycling. I am all for small business and have the greatest respect for people who make them work: that is the whole story of Sierra Nevada, Anchor and so many others. But big companies were small at one time, too. They prospered through excellence, many of them, and those who make a great products deserve my support too, is how I see it.

            Gary