Last month Appalachian Mountain Brewing bought their company back from the SABInBev Craft Brew Alliance and I my first wonder was if more would follow that lead.
It is one possible benefit of the slowness of the craft beer industry is that breweries who had sold out to the big beer barons, might see that their treatment at the hands of their overlords wasn’t great and the price is now right to get their company back into their hands.
My second wonder was that maybe the people that sold already moved on? But then Funky Buddha and Four Corners were reverted back to their OG owners from Constellation who bet ever so wrong on craft beer.
I think more will follow.
We are heading toward the halfway point of 2023 and I have yet to pinpoint a new beer style trend. I know that I ask this repetitive question each year, at least twice a year, but has craft beer hit a creative wall? Or is the next trend lurking underwater off the coast of Amity?
Pastry stouts seem to have stalled a bit either due to expense of ingredients or brewers have found the outer limit of America’s sweet tooth which is something I never thought was possible. Cold IPA’s might find headwinds of IPL logic slows that trend down.
The only big news of the year seems to be stovepipe cans. 19.2% is finding cooler room in limited spaces from gas stations to grocery stores.
Most recycling pitches are based on guilt trips so it is refreshing to see one that leavens the mood with humor. Take a watch right HERE.
Now we just need to get a better, national recycling plan in place where ALL of the glass gets made into new bottles and one doesn’t need to consult multiple sources to find out if a can label needs to be peeled off beforehand.
Yesterday, Bart Watson presented the Top 50 Breweries in the US for 2022 along with answering questions about other items of craft beer economic import. Y’all probably saw the shares and re-tweets of the list but below are my take-aways from the press conference.
- overall production was static at around 24+ Million barrels
- total retail dollars grew due to higher beer prices and a shift back to on premise drinking
- 9,552 active breweries in 2022 (though some may not have finished the year as active)
- openings still outpace closings 549 to 319
- no correlation between higher beer prices and slower growth
- taproom only models are skewing younger in years and perform better in general
- leases tend to be the main drivers in closings
I will dip into the Top 50 from a California perspective but this year saw the exit of Bell’s from the list since they do not meet the ownership criteria for craft and Stone will exit next year due to their sale to Sapporo. Also Yuengling is numero uno this year.
Here are the CA breweries in the Top 10
#3 Sierra Nevada
#4 Duvel US (which includes Firestone Walker)
# 7 Stone
Others include both Coasts, Lost and North, Pizza Port, Gordon Biersch and Craft Ohana which is the Maui Brewing / Modern Times group.
Another bit of good news gleaned from last months California Craft Beer Summit is the creation of the National Black Brewers Association. Anytime there can be a critical enough mass to form an association means that there is steam behind it and I hope to see events here in the Los Angeles area for the group.
I am happy to report that Flora Brewing is going pro!
But Sarah and her team are going to need a financial push from beer fans. So please check out their fundraising arm ( HERE ) to help a talented brewer get her beers to us.
Here in the U.S., malt leftover from brewing tends to go to animal feed or barley milk, dog biscuits or compost but a Japanese company, Kitafuku has another upcycled use for malt, “craft beer paper,” paper products that can be used in beer promotion such as tickets, menus, coasters and drink holders.
This is a brilliant loop for a brewery. Order a beer from a menu made from the previous batch of the same beer you are drinking now.
The theme for this year’s Summit was “unsteady”. My flight from BUR to SMF didn’t even toss peanuts to us due to the bumps. With crazy bank shenanigans and big competition from Bourbon and RTD’s, it seemed that everyone was a bit on edge. The future just seems wobbly.
While on the floor I saw little activity around a lot of the equipment booths and others seemed a bit heavy on banking and finance institutions.
Their was also some placement stategery going on. In the past, regions of California would pour their beers from one spot and you would see the hop folks clustered and the equipment booths together. This time around there was no clustering at all. You could have a malt seller next to a sanitation booth and one or both may have poured beers. And there was no signs as to what was pouring. So, as an LA person, I could not easily scope out the beers of the Bay Area or San Diego.
My guess being that in an effort to get all attendees to all booths, they mixed it all up to draw people in to give booths more exposure and chances to interact with people. It seemed, to me, the changes were exhibitor impact based and away from ease for attendees. Because if you were in the market for fruit puree, you were gonna walk.
The festival also was the same length as I remember but Monday was a political day of action with a Welcome event so you didn’t really go to the Convention Center until Tuesday and Wednesday was a half-day. That gave the Summit both breathing room and condensed the activity.
The education was still top notch. Lots of great information to be had. The events were excellent outside of the Summit and, as usual, the ship was run well and on-time. Imagine trying to pour Pliny to a huge crowd. Hard to do.
So, what did I take from the event? Loads of info that I will read about, a small understanding of the breweries in Sacramento that I could visit and a feeling that though there may be turbulence ahead, there may also be smooth pockets of air as well.
First bit of business is last nights quick and rainy trip to Moksa Brewing in Rocklin.
The beer list was just a skosh unbalanced with one lager and about six IPA’s of various stripes and six stouts of various adjuncts. The Chai Times spiced Stout was excellent and beer buddy Rich had a very rich in chocolate stout that I thought was great. The lager, Da Bier was just the antidote after a day of drinking. Moksa also won the weirdest beer award with Freshie Freeze that was super citrusy but it also had a strange diesel note as well.
Back to Wednesday, the 1/2 day. After a visit to fuel up at the Pancake Circus we headed to a Sensory Session with Omega Yeast. This is where the thiol learning from the day before came in handy, I sampled a test brew and boy was it as advertised. Huge grapefruit and passion fruit, almost too much. Amazing to taste what genetics and Crispr can do.
I also sample the Sierra Nevada kombucha with pizza and had a beermosa with Smog City’s Mango Pango.
Today was the day to hear from Pink Boot’s members who talked about the many benefits of the organization which was a welcome upbeat talk before we got the final session where the Cilurzo’s (Natalie and Vinnie) flanked Ken Grossman to talk about what they did with their breweries in the pandemic times as well as what they have in store for the future. More lagers from Russian River and more alternative drinks from Sierra Nevada.
While they spoke, the audience was treated to two special beers. Special being a bit of an understatement. First up was a 2010 Bigfoot that we tasted alongside the newest version. Next was a little bit of newly bottled Pliny the Younger, this year with Nectaron hops in the mix. Not a bad way to call the Summit to a close.
Tuesday was the big day on the floor of the Sacramento Convention Center. The day started with a round-up and introduction of the board members and the double team of keynote with David Walker and “Vulcan” Bart Watson.
The overall gist of the talk was that there is probably tough sledding ahead as California is lagging behind national averages during this recovery phase from the pandemic. As draft sales are not catching up to the go-go times. A key fact brought up is that craft was just beginning to head downward BEFORE the pandemic.
According to Walker the best route through is to curate the beer experience and lean into our strengths instead of chasing the “baubles” of seltzer or RTD’s that he said could be made by Monsanto and no one would notice.
After that I learned about Thiols and how to unlock their tropical flavor bounty with new genetically modified yeast. I then learned about some Sacramento area barley malt tests that were done to see how can grow local malt. California could conceivably grow enough brewing malt for all California craft breweries.
Then it was onto the expo floor and the exhibitors from the expected hop growers and label makers to the less expected banking and information management systems. If you needed to talk canning, canning was there. Multiple hop booths dotted the floor as well interspersed with malts of all kinds and a plethora of fruit puree booths.
After a bit of snacking at one of the sparse pairing sessions, it was time to hit the night VIP session which started as rain was bucketing down outside. So many beers on offer but after a day filled with sampling and a trip to Moksa Brewing scheduled for the night, the food was calling more. More on that tomorrow.