American craft brewing legend Dogfish Head Brewery, the mad geniuses from Delaware, sold to Boston Beer, the parent company that brews Sam Adams Boston Lager among many other beers. Neither brewery should be considered a micro-brewery, but neither is a macro-brewery. They both exist in some kind of middle ground. Being in that middle ground may mean death or consolidation going forward.
Apparently, the top 50 craft brewers are having trouble with many posting severe year-over-year declines. These are the craft brewers that I would define as “middle craft.” The challenge for these breweries is giving you the beer drinker a reason to try them over, say, a handful of hyper local breweries that may only sell products from their own taproom or a few commercial accounts.
In the past—okay, the 1990s—middle craft was the place to be as beer drinkers sought out different beers and the quality control at a lot of craft breweries was just bad. I cannot tell you how many small breweries were making beer that would make most semi-skilled home brewers spit out their stout. You sought out a New Belgium Fat Tire or Boulevard Wheat because those were well made beers from breweries you trusted. You knew you were not going to waste $8 on a six pack. Heck, you might even pick up something a little unusual from the same brewery when you were in the mood for a change.
That dynamic is long gone. Award winning breweries are scattered across this nation. Between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City I can patronize a half dozen breweries putting out good and sometimes great beer. Those same breweries have won medals at prestigious beer festivals and have reputations well beyond the borders of the state. Expanding my field of view to the entire state opens up a whole host of small, innovative, and well regarded breweries making all sorts of different beers. If you do not believe me just spend a minute perusing the tap list at the Iowa Taproom in Des Moines.
All things being equal, why would I buy a New Belgium Citradelic over a Lion Bridge Brewing Tag? Or, why would I buy a Dale’s Pale Ale over a Big Grover Brewery Arms Race? I like all four of the aforementioned beers. I choose to buy the local products almost every time.
This is the reality for the beer business in 2019.