As the host of Session #80, I posed the question “Is Craft Beer a Bubble?” To my delight, the (to my count) 27 contributions to the Session were very much distributed across the spectrum of possible answers to that question.
I decided I should divide the round-up according to which side (as I understood) the author of each contribution was on in the debate. Yesterday I published the first part, which included the 9 contributions which, to my mind, argued in favour of there being some kind of bubble which must eventually burst.
As I said yesterday, it’s not all black and white and none of the contributors treated it as such, so none of the responses fall totally on the one of the extreme ends of the spectrum. But today I’m round-up all those contributors who seem to sit more or less on the fence, not arguing strongly for either side of the debate.
In a Canoe: “No One can Know” says Aleksei and suggests that “Life is uncertain – Drink your beer now.” He presents three theories:
- The Pendulum – “Many just want “sex in a canoe” and to “git ‘r done” and the big boys have that covered. We get up to around 30% – 40% market share before leveling off and per capita consumption is back down to 34 gallons annually.”
- The Fad – “As the generation that drove the craft beer renaissance ages, and drinks less, the youngsters look for something to distinguish themselves from their dads.”
- The Stairway to Beervana – “We attain enlightenment when the Catholic church replaces wine in the sacrament with a double IPA infused with raspberries (except DING – who won’t try it because the Pope called it sessionable).”
Beer Bar Band: “Yes and no.” Echoing Simon’s sentiment, James says “craft beer is also beer, which has been an industry for hundreds of years” and concludes his contribution with “if craft beer is a bubble, its bursting is so far off and/or so unlikely to end the supply of a range of good beers that it’s hardly worth discussing on a thirsty Friday afternoon.” But my favourite point from him is one I haven’t heard before:
“If anything, a bubble that may be bursting at the moment … is the one surround (sic) mass-produced adjunct lagers that have dominated our market for the last century. Bland, pale, heavily filtered beer made from processed ingredients seem to have reached their market capacity and sales have been slowly deflating for a couple of years now. The demand is dissipating.”
Pittsburg Beer Snob: Bill doesn’t really have an answer, but contributes to the discussion with some personal musings on the subject: “I just think that the reality of the situation is that the majors will always try to imitate the creativity of the craft brewers. An even harsher truth is that there are more goofs in this country that love anything the majors come out with. It almost doesn’t matter what it is. The fact that they can come out with a “seasonal offering” now makes it that much harder to convert the sheep that already drink nothing but the swill that’s produced.”
Ding: Adrian Dingle touches on a very good point that most contributors have ignored: quality is not the only thing that sells a beer: “it’s entirely possible for incompetent, ‘bad’ breweries, to survive. In some cases, in particular in America, these breweries even thrive.” He is of course speaking of “the appetite for ‘the latest, biggest and most brash‘ beer”.
Many of the contributors, particularly the optimistic ones (which I will round-up tomorrow), have a troubling amount of faith in the ability of capitalism to force the craft beer industry to evolve in favour of quality. Even Ding says “Normally one would expect the market to correct this”, to which I can only wonder why, given the last century of history, anybody would consider a capitalist marketplace to be ultimately beneficial to a discerning, quality-conscious consumer. Thoughts?
A Good Beer Blog: As usual, my fellow Canadian Alan McLeod addresses the question with just the right amount of zen practicality. “But then I wonder whether there is any truth to the subject. Or if I have any ideas about it. See, like others I am not an economist. And I am neither a futurist or a time traveller. One of my favourite quotes from a real economist, John Kenneth Galbraith, was from an election night TV broadcast decades ago when he was asked how he thought the election would turn out. Ask me at eleven, he replied.” Some might say he offers no answer at all, but I would say he offers perhaps the most correct answer to the question:
“Is this a bubble? We might wonder if this is an aspect of the knowledge economy, irrational enthusiasm or signs of a paradigm shift. Each an attractive cliché. A comfort or even a line from a morality play. Never mind. Things shall be as they shall be. Can’t we be happy with that? What will they be like? Ask me at eleven.”
Tasting Nitch: “I say yeah, sure, maybe but not really or not at all. We don’t know yet. We are doing the right thing in keeping an eye on it.” The author, in lieu of choosing a side, directs the reader instead almost immediately to Bryan Roth’s contribution to the Session, then goes on to write a general argument in favour of supporting craft beer, only tangentially related to our question.
The Brewolero: “I cannot speak to whether or not there’s some kind of bubble forming here–I’d highly doubt it, to be honest, because there is much potential to tap into, especially if those Bolivian microbreweries were to try and tap into the “premium” markets here in Bolivia.” Here we have a Bolivian contributor who speaks from what is still a relatively new marketplace. Instead of being concerns with doom and gloom, the author discusses how local microbreweries can continue to promote market growth and achieve success in the face of encroaching foreign interests.
“The challenge is to create the vocabulary and knowledge base about beer among Bolivian society in general rather than relying on fickle and seasonal tourist traffic to buttress your sales.”
Come back tomorrow for my round-up of the nays, the optimists, the bloggers who believe that craft beer is not a bubble, the majority of the contributors to Session #80.