What a year it has been for the craft beer scene. Growth in the segment continues to outpace others in the industry though that growth has slowed in the last year. Still, the Brewer’s Association’s latest report shows that breweries opening to closing is approximately a 3:1 ratio. Some major trends took off this year or continued their torrid pace from 2008. In a nutshell, those trends are “new beers,” collaborations, social media, city beer weeks, and barrel-aging. The industry also lost important people this year like Greg Noonan and Bill Brand.
Below, you will find the top 10 stories summarizing the year in craft beer. Note that this isn’t a completely subjective list; these stories are the ones that got the most hits on my site this year (even if written late in 2008). If there was a big story that I missed (there weren’t many), you won’t see it here. That said, you will notice some “snubs” like the Black Tuesday release and beer week coverage. Voice what you would’ve liked to have made it into the top 10 in the comments.
Following the release of Hallertau Imperial Pilsner previously, Boston Beer Co. released some “imperial” beers into the marketplace under new branding this year. An Imperial Stout, Imperial White, and the return of Double Bock all made it onto store shelves throwing Boston Beer Co. right into the “extreme beer” mix with the small breweries. Also of note, the brewery released its first-ever Barrel Room Collection late in the year.
Victory Brewing released a few new beers this year much to the delight of the brewery’s fans. I previewed the release of Wild Devil and Helios this past summer after the news was leaked. Yakima Twilight was then introduced as a year-round product just last month.
Sierra Nevada Brewing surprised everyone this year by finally tweaking its year-round lineup and introducing some new brands: Torpedo IPA and Kellerweis Hefeweizen. Torpedo was the #2 new craft beer of the year according to IRI figures through this summer and it was the one of the two that got people the most excited. The demand has been through the roof and it may just be the hardest-to-find year-round beer out there.
Spoetzl Brewery celebrated its 100th Anniversary with a new beer, Shiner Commemorator, and a 100 bottle rocket salute. The brewery’s initiative to offer new brands like Shiner Smokehaus and Shiner Frost is a boost to those in the Lone Star state looking for greater selection and new offerings. There is a growing scene down in Texas with new(ish) breweries like 512 and Southern Star also doing interesting things down there.
One of the problems that marred past years was that people waited in long lines for hours and ended up with no beer. Some of those people traveled hundreds of miles. The biggest release day of the year in craft beer needed some tweaking and the brewery did just that by introducing the golden ticket system. The system allows people to reserve bottles ahead of time prior to the event. It takes some uncertainty out of the equation and enables people to just relax and enjoy the event. That said, it created a new commodity around which scalpers could prey (not just the bottles but now the tickets, too). When all is said and done, it continues be the most popular beer release event year-after-year.
2009. The Year of the Collaboration. This was easily the fastest-rising trend this year. Stone Brewing was at the forefront though it was the Life and Limb / Limb and Life collaboration between Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada Brewing that has generated the most buzz. Boston Beer Co., Boulevard Brewing, and others are joining in on the fun as well. And if Sierra Nevada’s recent announced 30th Anniversary collaborations with craft beer pioneers isn’t in next year’s top 10, I will be surprised.
Rock Art Brewery was sent a cease-and-desist notice from representatives of Hansen Beverage, makers of Monster Energy Drink. Its Vermonster beer would have to be renamed to something else because the name allegedly resembled that of Monster Energy Drink. Rather than lay down to the corporate behemoth, the company fought back using a viral social media campaign as its main weapon. Hansen and Rock Art would later reach an agreement and Vermonster is here to stay.
For the first time, craft beer hit the big screen in a full-length feature. Talk about the nationwide one-night showing of Beer Wars was everywhere in April (before and after it was released). Anat Baron’s movie about small craft beer companies and their struggle against the beer-making giants created lots of discussion around the business side of the industry.
BrewDog certainly ruffled some feathers with the announcement that it had created a 32% ABV beer. Is it nonsense or a much-needed shot in the arm for the UK/European beer industry? American breweries have been able to freely experiment with brewing though traditional methods are still the law in many brewing circles overseas. News about the beer appeared in major publications like BBC, The Telegraph, and The Huffington Post (political allegiances aside). I pondered whether James Watt was the most interesting man in craft beer in a year in which BrewDog was at the center of many a scandal.
This was undoubtedly the biggest story of the year. To give you some perspective on the ongoing explosion of activity in social media, there were four breweries on Twitter in 2007, 82 at the end of 2008, and now there are over 720 at the end of 2009 (I will update the list next month, I promise). As much success as Twitter has had, Facebook is a bigger deal though. And with over 350 million people on the service, breweries are taking advantage. Consider the New Belgium Brewing page on Facebook where you see that the brewery has approximately 60,000 fans.
Breweries and other beer companies that are not using Twitter or Facebook need to should consider creating accounts as soon as possible. Boulevard Brewing, Magic Hat, and others are using these spaces to make announcements and connect with fans and customers. It’s a major opportunity.
All of that said, the services still center around individuals. I’m starting to see more and more Beer Advocates and RateBeerians joining. Twitter and Facebook have also been a big help to craft beer people hoping to network with others and grow their own personal brands and blogs.