This is a guest post by Brian Trivitt.
Things change fast these days. Gone are the times when people worked at the same place for their entire career or there were just a small handful of television shows to choose from. Today, we are inundated with constant new choices and beer is certainly no exception. Thanks to smartphones and social media, we are literally just a swipe of a screen away from seeing what’s new.
With over 7,000 breweries in the U.S. and several hundred more foretasted to open this year, our choices of different beers seem to be endless. And while many proclaim that now is the best time in history to be a beer lover, it’s important to keep in perspective just how many breweries and different beers are available on the market compared to just a few years ago.
Thirty years ago, in 1989, the U.S. had a total of 247 breweries. Of course, not many people knew about craft beer in those days. But even as recently as the turn of this decade, there were only just over 1800 breweries in the U.S., representing a 634% increase. While that increased percentage is staggering, with over 7000 breweries operating today, this means over 5000 new breweries have opened in less than a decade!
Taking a closer look here in the great state of Texas, the number of TABC label approvals jumped by 466 from 2016 to 2017, going from 1427 to 1893, representing a staggering 32% increase! (Source: Andrew Schwab, Craft Beer Austin article May 2018). While those label approvals are not all new beers, but rather some new packaging formats of existing offerings, to put things in further perspective, there were 20 TABC approvals in 2006 from Texas-based breweries. As you can imagine, with this number of new breweries and beers for the consumer to choose from, it’s pretty easy these days to stand firm on the mantra “I never drink the same beer twice” that some beer geeks abide by.
Like any other craft beer lover out there, I am always up for trying something new and consistently impressed with the innovation and execution of many new offerings. That said, not to sound too much like the curmudgeon middle-aged beer guy, but I also taste many new offerings that are simply not good and/or taste remarkably similar to something already on the market. What concerns me is that this philosophy of only drinking something new is and will likely to continue to have a negative impact on the quality of craft beer. What’s more, I’m not really sure how the overall marketplace will ever be able to handle all of these new offerings if this pace keeps up. And when I say marketplace, I’m talking about everybody here; including beer drinkers, wholesalers, off-premise retailers, beer bars, and even the brewery taprooms themselves. If breweries are always feeling forced to release something new to stay competitive, will we reach a point where even they run out of tap space and just can’t keep up anymore?
As I previously stated, I am all for innovation in brewing and trying new things, but not at the expense of quality control for an establishment’s core offerings and new recipes. Too often, I believe some of the sub-par new beers are simply the result of beers being rushed due to the fear customers moving on to another brewery just because they visited your taproom more than once and you didn’t have anything new. I believe Darren AKA “The Burnt Out Craft Beer Guy” said it best in a recent article “Because of the relentless drive to recreate beer, craft brewers have inadvertently spawned a consumer culture where beer doesn’t necessarily need to be great anymore. It just needs to be new (Source: theburntoutbeerguy).
Given the choice, I would much rather have fewer beers out there but with an emphasis on quality. I’d like to see a prevailing attitude of confidence by breweries that the beers they offer in their existing portfolio are great consistent beers. Before a new beer is released, breweries should make sure it’s a damn good beer!
Brian Trivitt is a beer enthusiast who enjoys writing, debating, analyzing and of course drinking good beer. As a Missouri native, residing in Austin, Texas for many years and having the privilege of meeting many people in the local and regional craft scene, he has some very unique views and opinions about various topics in the beer industry. Anything beer related is fair game for his writings.
When he isn’t writing about beer, he spends his free time with his lovely wife and two wonderful daughters. Follow him on Twitter @TrivittBrew.