By Alan J. Wax
The Brewers Association (BA) says its concerned about declining quality of craft beer.
Speaking on April 9 in Denver at the annual Craft Brewers Conference, BA director Paul Gatza said that while the number of breweries, beer production, revenues and exports have climbed, quality has fallen. The Boulder, Colo.-based BA sponsors the conference, which this year attracted about 9,000 attendees.
“It’s a big issue,” Gatza told a media teleconference from the gathering. “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.”
Earlier, speaking to the brewers, he told about visiting a beer fest and sampling a number of poor quality offerings, Gatza told new craft brewers: “Don’t f*ck it up.”
Gatza said some new professional brewers, among them former home brewers, are not putting out beer quality that reflects well on the whole industry.”
“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 urged the newcomers need to step back and spend more time on the science of beer making and urged them to use outside labs to measure bacteria counts and other benchmarks.
Not all the blame, he said, falls on the brewers and noted that some fault belongs to retailers who fail to clean their draft lines or don’t clean their glassware property.
Brewers Association economist Bart Watson, meanwhile told the conference that the industry’s growth streak continues. The stats are available in an online Power Point presentation.
Craft brewing volume grew 18 percent, to 15.6 million barrels in 2013, up by 2.3 million, even as the overall U.S. beer market declined 2 percent.
Craft beer’s market share, meanwhile, grew to 7.8 percent last year and is predicted to grow further. In dollars, craft beer garnered a 14.3 percent share, $14.3 billion out of a total $100 billion in sales.
The U.S. had 2,768 breweries at the end of 2013, with 1,744 in the planning stages. By the end of last month, the number of operating breweries had grown to 2,866. Of those, 99 percent are craft breweries.
BA Chief Operating Officer Robert Pease said U.S. craft brewers exported 282,526 barrels last year, up 49 percent from 2012. The top foreign markets were Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.
“The word is out that the best beer in the world is being made by American craft brewers,” Pease said.
Gatza said the BA has what he called an “aspirational” goal for the craft brewing industry to hit 20 percent market share by the end of the decade. But it’s not a slam-dunk, he admitted.