Will a bunch of terrible craft beer ruin the booming craft beer industry?
By Jon Terbush | October 6, 2014
In April, Brewers Association Director Paul Gatza issued a warning to the thousands of industry folks gathered at the annual Brewers Conference in Denver. Recalling a recent beer festival where he'd sampled offerings from about 10 new breweries, Gatza said seven or eight clearly needed improvement.
"We hate to see this segment being brought down with people having bad experiences in their glass when they're trying craft beer," he said.
Or to put it more bluntly, as he then did: "Don't f--k it up."
With the craft beer industry booming, quality control has emerged as a primary concern among brewers. Roughly 1,250 new breweries opened in the last five years, bringing the total to 2,822 nationwide. Yet not everyone who wants to make good beer knows how to make good beer, so the slew of fledgling ventures — all with varying levels of experience, knowledge, and skill — has led to some really bad brews hitting the market.
The industry prides itself on innovation and creativity, but those traits can be problematic when inexperienced brewers try to make difficult or unusual brews right from the start. And this mentality has led to some brewers rebelling against pale light lagers and racing to market with bold, though untested — and potentially gross — recipes.
"Remember how Picasso had to learn how to paint properly before he could do all those seemingly random paint splashes and make them work?" respected beer writer Pete Brown wrote last December. "You need to know how to brew boring brown ale well before you're qualified to mess around with more diverse stuff."
Hence, there are beers brewed with seaweed, Sriracha and beard yeast, among other odd ingredients. And though those beers may be perfectly fine — I've never tried them — many bad brewers have no idea their beer stinks.
"They just didn't know better," Gatza told The Week of the subpar breweries he'd sampled. Still, people are so eager to catch the craft wave that some are "jumping into the industry without a firm knowledge on beer quality."
This is not a new phenomenon. The industry contracted in the late 1990s and early 2000s, in part because too many entrepreneurs entered the field assuming they could strike it rich without knowing — or worse, caring — enough about the product.
Craft brewers worry about quality from new operations
By RICK ARMON Published: April 9, 2014
The Brewers Association is worried that some of the small craft breweries opening around the country today aren’t producing quality beer.
Those stinkers can give the growing industry a black eye, association Director Paul Gatza said during a news conference from the Craft Brewers Conference in Denver.
“It’s a big issue,” he said. “We hate to see this segment being brought down with people having bad experiences in their glass when they’re trying craft beer. They're maybe less likely to try something new in the future if they are having a bad experience from the last brewery they tried.”
With the craft beer industry continuing to explode in the U.S., it’s expected that there will be a few duds. But some established craft brewers are becoming irritated at new players that don’t take quality serious enough.
“A lot of people start in this industry as homebrewers who are told by their friends that they’re making good beer and you should go pro,” Gatza said. “A lot of them do and they try to do it on a shoestring. Try to do it on a small level and get bigger. They get their licenses. They make their first commercial beer and their friends say this is so great. But in truth what people who really know about beer are finding [is] that a lot of these newer brewers are not putting out quality that reflects well on the whole craft community. There are some off flavors at times.”
He said the Boulder, Colo.-based association is encouraging the new brewers to invest in their beer and the science behind it, including sending their beer out to be tested.
Nationwide, there are at least 1,898 breweries in the planning stage today, said Bart Watson, the association economist. By the end of last month, there also were 2,866 breweries in operation — up about 100 from just the end of last year.
Of course, there are great breweries adding to the cultural scene, as well, Gatza said.
“There’s a recognition that to remain vibrant and new and good and to challenge the rest of us, this should be an open community,” he said when asked about whether the association doesn’t want the growth to occur so fast.
Craft beer now controls 7.8 percent of the overall beer market. The association has put forth an aggressive goal of claiming 20 percent by 2020.
The country can support more breweries, said Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the association.
“Ultimately the marketplace will decide,” she said. “New brewers bring innovation, excitement, competition and up the game constantly and raise the bar constantly as we see more getting online.”