Friday, September 7, 2012

How Many Breweries in 2017? (The Session no.67)

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, started by Stan Hieronymus at Appellation Beer. On the first Friday of each month, all participating bloggers write about a predetermined topic. Each month a different blog is chosen to host The Session, choose the topic, and post a roundup of all the responses received. For more info on The Session, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin's archive page.

This month's Session is hosted by Derrick Peterman of the blog Ramblings of a Beer Runner. His chosen topic: tell us how many breweries the Brewer's Association will count five years from now in 2017, and why you think it will be that number.

"Where is it all going? The growth shows no sign of stopping and the biggest problem most breweries have is that they can't brew beer fast enough. But can the market really absorb all these new breweries? Are we headed for a cataclysmic brewing bubble where legions of brewers, their big dreams busted, are left to contemplate selling insurance? Or is brewing reaching a critical mass, only to explode even more intensely in a thermo-nuclear frenzy of fermentation?"

Well, this is a timely appropriate topic for The Session...for two reasons.

First, the host is Derrick Peterman who blogs as Ramblings of a Beer Runner and, for me, this month is all about running! For the second year in a row I have signed up to run the Melbourne Half Marathon in October. I had never run before the age of 29ish, but slowly took up running in late 2009 with Jenn to loose weight and improve our overall health. It worked (after much hard work) and we completed our first 10 km fun run in October 2010.

After every fun/event run we do, we celebrate with a beer session afterwards. Often it’s an immediate-ish post run beer at Beer DeLuxe (as most of the runs tend to be around central Melbourne).
8Wired Tall Poppy post 14km Run for the Kids 2011

The health balance of beer and running actually makes very good sense, once you start down that path. I’m not one who stays fit and in easily, after an obese youth and early adult years. So distance running ensures I can maintain the shape that took me 3 years of harsh effort to claim.

I also enjoy following online the exploits and writings of other (real) beer runners from around the globe, such as  Tim Cigelske (The Beer Runner!) and Claire Walsh (Will Run For Beer) and Suzi Storm (Ok, just one more beer...)

A Feral Hop Hog post Run for the Kids 2012
Now, to help make some dint in the 5kgs I’ve stacked on so far this year, we have committed to a month long detox, health kick and training program during September to restore my power to knock off 21 kms in 90 minutes. It also helps confirm that we’re still not alcoholics...yet. Some people do Febfast, others do Dry July. Previously we've done our own personal month long detox and fitness kicks, namely NO!vember, even Half-Arsed Febfast. This time, it is Sucktember. And yes, 7 days booze or soft-drink, chocolate & sweets, low carbs...lots of running and sucks!

Anyway, following on from that, the second benefit of this Session topic is that it’s not focused on beer as a beverage. No tasting or consumption of alcohol is required to review beers or discuss styles, allowing me to participate without any hindrance to my alcohol free efforts during Sucktember. Nice one (…only 23 days to go!).

Anyway...time to get onto the topic…

My exposure to the US beer industry is minimal. Hey, I’m down under in Australia! So I’ll need to take a slightly different angle with this post.

We do receive a small number of beautiful beery exports from America, such as Moylans, Southern Tier, Victory, Rogue, Green Flash and Heretic. However, I am mostly oblivious to the business side of the US beer industry. Hence, I’m not really in any position to comment on how many breweries the Brewer's Association will count five years from now.

Aussie brewers tend to suggest that the craft beer industry in America is a good 10 to 20 years ahead of Australia’s young craft brewing endeavours. Our local craft beer industry is experiencing some good times, with new growth and recognition, but there is still a very long way to go. So I suspect Australian beer will mostly continue to plod along at about the current rate up to 2017.

Although, I do wonder if history will repeat. Both in Australia and the USA there were several times during the last century when breweries were plentiful and producing a large range of beers, but they were eventually all bought up and consolidated by the largest breweries in the name of big business. Will it go that way again?

Craft beer popularity is indeed rising. The market share is still tiny, but growth is strong. The big multinational breweries are watching closely the performance of the craft beer market and developing strategies to be major players in the sector. Presenting very attractive offers to acquire the top performaning craft beer brands is surely the next part of the 1980s to return to life in the 21st century...?  We are already seeing a change in strategy of the big, now foreign-owned, breweries in Australia, with Lion (under Kirin) buying out Aussie craft beer pioneer (of sorts) Little Creatures.

In Australia, I predict that the number of breweries will still be increasing in 2017, but begining to plateau as the market space for small breweries becomes a little squishy.

Maybe. Although, I hope not. I hope this a good beer explosion Australia-wide, a true craft be reveloutin that overruns the taps of all pubs and bars. Pipe-dream...but let us dream!

Over the last 15 years, new (primarily craft) breweries in Australia have had to work very hard to turn the common drinker of bland lagers onto flavoursome craft beers. However, they have had free reign over their local market and plenty of opportunity to break new ground in Aussie brewing.

Today, it is surely becoming harder for brand new beer businesses to capture some of that virgin market. Breweries are everywhere now and many of them are innovating. It will soon take something extra special for a new brewery to be noticed.

However, let us never believe that any form of innovation and evolution will ever stop. Who knows what 2017 hold for beer here there or anywhere! There may soon be an X-Men style giant leap forward in brewing that will completely change the game from the ground up.

Nonetheless, I suspect many of the traditional beers styles will still dominate in 2017 but there will be new varieties, hybrid and beer concepts that we can’t even fathom yet!

Ok, enough randoming and rambling, here is my concrete prediction for Derrick's Session topic: I’ll be visiting the US brewing industry as a tourist sometime in the next 5 years (...umm...better start saving!) and much more of America’s craft beer will be legitimately available here in Australia (fingers crossed for Russian River, Dogfish Head and Stone)!

Since I’m not a betting man, I'll end with less of a prediction and more of a desire for 2017. In five years time I'd like to be actually working in the beer industry…maybe with a craft beer shop, maybe with a brewpub (better get that lotto ticket), more likely in communications support for the craft beer industry…or maybe it’s still unlikely that the beer industry will support professional beer writers in 2017. Where's my DeLorean?

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