Can the craft beer industry adapt to the new normal?

Approx. read time < 5 min.

Just Tapped

Remember when we called it microbrew? Remember when we called them microbreweries? If you answered yes, you are officially old. Those days are long gone and the world has evolved. Sometimes it feels like little has changed in the world of beer, other than dropping the term micro. There’s still a lot of prehistoric thinking in ye olde craft beer industry. That needs to stop. Read on.

Accepting the New Normal

“Zero growth doesn't mean no change.” That was one of the more encouraging things that Bart Watson said during his keynote address at last week’s Craft Brewers Conference. The Brewers Association’s Chief Economist said a lot of stuff that probably sent shivers up people’s spines, sharing bleak statistics and uninspiring economic forecasts. Brewbound shared a good synopsis here (paywalled).

One important thing Watson mentioned, there will be no return to the pre-pandemic world of 2019 and the decade of remarkable craft beer growth that preceded it. Watson suggested that today's flat growth rate is the new normal, at least for the foreseeable future, and we need to find ways to succeed within the new reality.

“The ideas that have gotten craft where it is were wonderful, they were ingenious, they changed the beverage alcohol world. But that’s not the same thing as saying the ideas that got us here are the ones that are going to take us to the next level. We’re going to need new ways of thinking.”

Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association.

Of all the stats and observations that Watson shared, one thing that really stood out was his recommendation that craft brewers develop new strategies and innovations. He spoke of the need to connect with new customers, appeal to different demographics, and find new occasions. From the brewhouse to the bartop, the craft beer industry must find ways to attract new audiences.

Craft beer has always been about creativity. It was born of a desire to do something different. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, when only a tiny portion of the nation had ever heard of microbreweries and nobody drank microbrews, our craft-brewing ancestors built and grew an audience. We need to do it again. We need to expand and broaden the audience. With 9,000-plus breweries in the USA, we've already done the hardest part: we've built the tent. Now we just need to make sure everyone knows that they are welcome in it.

Bringing Culture to the Cup

This is very much related to what we just said. Last week's Craft Brewers Conference provided an opportunity for a new organization to introduce itself: the National Black Brewers Association (NB2A). The newly formed non-profit organization’s motto: We Celebrate Those Bringing Culture to the Cup.

“Less than 1% of craft breweries in the U.S. are owned by African Americans,” says the NB2A website. "There is no single entity to help African American brewers and brewery owners with their specific needs and issues." Until now.

There are about 9,500 breweries in the U.S. and only about 100 are Black-owned. The National Black Brewers Association intends to change that. Among other things, the NB2A aims to increase the number of African Americans working at all levels of the brewing industry. Also, to foster an understanding of the history and legacy of African American brewing in the United States.

As the Craft Brewers Conference was wrapping up, Boston Beer Company presented the NB2A with a check for $225,000. “Partnerships with household names like the Boston Beer Company are essential to the success and growth of organizations like ours," said Kevin Johnson, founder of the NB2A. “With their support and resources, we’re better equipped to provide the necessary tools and opportunities for Black brewers and brewery owners to thrive.”

“We believe that by working together, we can create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable industry that benefits everyone.”

Kevin Johnson, founder of the National Black Brewers Association.

The Taster Tray believes that creating a more diverse audience for craft beer is a path to success in the new normal, so cheers to the National Black Brewers Association!

Around the Web

  • Now it's Miller Lite's turn to attract the ire of conservative beer drinkers. Some folks are calling for a Miller Lite boycott after taking exception to the company's tongue-in-cheek apology for decades of bikini-clad beer commercials. Story on The Guardian.

  • Oskar Blues introduces a whole new look for Dale's Pale Ale, continuing the trend of legacy breweries breathing new life into aging flagship brands. Story by Brewbound (paywalled).

  • Welcome to American Craft Beer Week 2023, the annual "official kickoff to beer season." The official dates this year are May 15 thru 21. Learn more about American Craft Beer Week here.

Say What?

On last week's Tray, we talked about the whole Bud Light debacle and what the craft beer community can learn from the way Bud Light mishandled the entire thing. Here's some of the feedback we received.

captaninv@... said: “This was easily the most interesting take on the story I've read so far. Thanks! And, WOW.”

elizabethjaynecase@... said: “Loved the insights to AB’s “kerfuffle” & also the use of the word kerfuffle 😉

This week's Taster Tray was composed by Kendall Jones.