As the craft beer world turns…
Looking back at my 2009 summary, I am amazed by the new storylines that emerged this year and the growing interest in this niche. And how can I even still call it a “niche” when our slice of the industry is booming toward $8 billion in sales this year? Without further ado, here is my top 10, loosely based on the actual hits my articles have generated this year (note: FDA ban on Four Loko and similar beers was a huge story but not a “craft beer” story). I follow those with a few thoughts on 2011.
10. Black IPAs/India-style Black Ales/Cascadian Dark Ales
This discussion certainly deserves a place higher than 10th as the “no-doubter” top trend of the year in craft beer. That said, I personally didn’t provide much coverage on the subject as there was already enough of it out there. I mentioned it back in February when introducing Oakshire O’Dark:30. The discussion still rages on into December somehow. Here’s to hoping we can all agree to disagree, appreciate the contributions all regions have made to the style and enjoy these beers for what they are going forward.
9. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout beers
The whale story of the year? (Someone should buy up whalebeer.com which is available as of right now). There was no beer release discussed more in beer trading circles this year. The Chicago Tribune reported that Rare Bourbon County Stout was priced at $45/bottle.
8. Sierra Nevada celebrates 30th anniversary
The Chico brewery turned 30 in 2010. To celebrate the occasion, Sierra Nevada released four beers in which brewers worked with pioneers of the industry like Charlie Papazian. The brewery also replaced its Anniversary Ale with Tumbler Brown Ale which was a notable story in its own right. And as if 2010 wasn’t big enough, 2011 promises to be a big one for Sierra Nevada.
7. IPAs are crushing it.
The style continues its rapid growth in the retail space. Where Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA was the prominent addition to the market in 2009, Boston Beer Co. introduced Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA as a year-round release this past fall. In addition, New Belgium Ranger IPA proved to be the newcomer of the year in a landslide according to Symphony IRI national sales data. To put it in perspective, at the U.S. supermarket level, New Belgium Ranger IPA had $2.3 million in YTD sales through July 11th. The runner-up? Dundee IPA with $123,450 in sales.
The most widely anticipated release of the year. The groundbreaking beer from Samuel Adams and Weihenstephan that was billed to push the limits of the Reinheitsgebot to the max. The beer has been criticized as a disappointment though (Beer Advocate reviews here).
5. Magic Hat/Pyramid sale
It was a year of craft brewery sales, none larger in size than this deal. Independent Brewers United is no longer independent after its sale to KPS Capital-owned NAB Breweries. Together, Pyramid and Magic Hat sold nearly 350k barrels in 2009 (The New Brewer), placing them among the five largest craft brewing companies. After the announcement of the sale, Magic Hat founder, Alan Newman, remarked, “So, as I depart, I just want to let each and every one of you know how much I have enjoyed our 16 year run, and working with you all to help build and grow the Magic Hat brand.”
4. Eataly Birreria
One of the biggest announcements of the year actually turned out to be a non-story in 2010. Initially, it was hoped that Birreria would open on the rooftop of the new Eataly complex this past summer. The opening was delayed and then delayed again and again; it is now expected to open later this winter. Who knew that opening a brewery on a rooftop in New York City would bring with it so many logistical challenges? Cable TV stars, Mario Batali and Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione, are part of the project though Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo had to bow out to focus on Russian River Brewing.
3. Anchor Brewing sale
The end of an era. For over a decade, Fritz Maytag ran the only small brewery in the country before Jack McAuliffe started up New Albion Brewing. Though the size of the deal doesn’t measure up with the IBU sale, the significance of this one may be greater. Maytag paved the way for the legion of well over 1,000 craft breweries that have followed over a span of nearly five decades.
2. BrewDog releases more high ABV beers
They did it again. Not once but twice. They shocked the beer world with the unveiling of Tactical Nuclear Penguin on Thanksgiving Day last year. This year, they came back with Sink the Bismarck! and The End of History. The latter story was especially a hit in the mainstream press.
1. Brew Masters
The Year of Sam. If Time printed a craft beer issue, Calagione would be on the cover as the person of the year. Brew Masters debuted on the Discovery Channel last month and from the limited amount of research that I have been able to do, the original airings reached somewhere in the ballpark of 1 million viewers per episode. Reviews in polling data I’ve taken here have shown that the overall sentiment around the show is positive but that it is not without fault. The big question is whether there is drama at a brewery compelling enough to continue drawing in viewers, especially at a brewery that is very successful. Does a show featuring a struggling brewery make more sense? It has not yet been announced whether the show will return for another season.
Looking ahead to 2011
I’m not one for making predictions but I’m looking forward to at least a couple things in 2011. For one, there are two major bills in Congress that will affect us beer consumers that should come to resolution this coming year. The biggie is HR 4278. Read more about it here. The other is HR 5034. The bill is largely thought to have implications for beer even though the discussion primarily references the wine industry.
The other thing I’ll be watching is the development of beer websites and beer apps on mobile devices, especially the latter. Existing mobile applications have only scratched the surface of experiences that smartphones can provide us at the point of purchase and point of consumption. There is also a ton of room for improvement on beer websites like this one. By this time next year, you will be consuming beer information using new tools and technology…that is, if you choose to be open to these new experiences.
[ed. note: Side bar geek discussion...I'm no beer historian but numerous sources claim that New Albion is considered the first "craft brewery" despite Anchor being in operation many years earlier. It has been brought to my attention that it could be because New Albion was the first brewery started after the Internal Revenue Service small brewer rules were set in 1976. To that, I question why Anchor wouldn't have been grandfathered in as the first brewery to qualify when the law was established. And if Anchor wasn't the impetus for the law in the first place, why would Congress even establish a law that didn't serve a single legal entity? To my knowledge:
a) there were no other small brewers in the 60s and early 70s, even non-independent ones (Brewing Institute tables show there being only one "small brewery" until New Albion was founded - I wasn't born until 1984 so that is all I have to go off of...)
b) no changes have been made to the provisions in the last 34 years (so why would Anchor qualify today and not have qualified in 1976?)
c) Maytag bought the brewery outright in 1969 so Anchor should've qualified as an independent brewery at that time
My understanding of the history and craft beer qualification rules is clearly off somewhere!]