Update I: SingleCut responds.
(New York City, NY) – On Christmas, Evil Twin Brewing founder, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, shared a photo on Facebook (photo credit goes to Smuttynose Brewing’s Patrick Fondiller) showing the SingleCut Beersmiths logo with some anti-contract brewer messaging that reads, “Contract brewing will be the death of craft beer.”
The photo set off a flurry of comments from fellow brewers, many of whom thrive off of contract brewing and closely-related “tenant” brewing.
“Spoken like someone with a year of experience in the industry,” says Prairie Ales co-founder, Chase Healey, who works with Krebs Brewing Co. in Oklahoma.
Jarnit-Bjergsø, who brews at many different locations, continues, “but what a year it was. I can seriously say that the one beer I had from them is THE most infected commercially made beer I have ever tried. But each to their own right?”
Heavy Seas/Clipper City Brewing founder, Hugh Sisson, sparked a similar firestorm last year when he noted, “you’re not legit until you’ve got skin in the game,” a comment also surfaced by Jarnit-Bjergsø.
This year, New York’s Shmaltz Brewing released “Death of a Contract Brewer” as symbolism that it was
starting anew with its own brand-new brewery ditching the stigma and label around “contract brewers.”
Slate, among others, has since tackled the topic of contract brewing.
At the end of the day, maybe science should win out…
“There is nothing magical about owning the equipment you brew on, says Cigar City Founder, Joey Redner. “The beer is either good or it is not good. A beer is not more good because you own the gear it was made on.” Cigar City recently launched a series of beers with a brewery in Puerto Rico.
Saint Somewhere founder, Bob Sylvester, draws a parallel to the restaurant industry. “There are plenty of world class Michelin Star and James Beard award winning chefs who don’t own their own restaurants. Why is brewing different?”
Given the poster’s NYC bent, it should be no surprise that The Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver has the most to say on this, given he is local, tenured more than most and works for a company that brews on a contract basis. He and SingleCut’s Rich Buceta are also familiar with one another having both appeared together on at least one episode of Beer Sessions Radio.
“The thing is, Chase, this crap is just sad. All too often these days, instead of brewing their beer and doing the fun thing they came to do, you see too many angry arrivistes talking smack about their fellow brewers.”
Oliver recounts a story in which Randy Thiel, then head brewer at Ommegang, helped him out when he was in a bind.
“In 2006 we were looking to get into full-scale bottle-conditioning and we were taking a big leap. I bought a gravity filler so that we would be unable to lose our nerve and package carbonated beer. We had a series of test brews and re-fermentation trials planned. Bert Van Heck, then recently brewmaster of St. Bernardus, came to the brewery for three days and taught us the ins and outs of true bottle-conditioning – it turns out that you can’t read how to do this in any book in any language. And then we hit a huge snag.
The re-fermentation crates, without which we couldn’t get started, were actually only available in Belgium. And it would take them three months to send them, and things would otherwise be nearly impossible to pull off. So I reached out to Randy Thiel, who was then head brewer at Ommegang. Knowing full well that Brooklyn Local 1 would soon be sitting on shelves next to his beers, all Randy had to do was say “sorry, haven’t got any – wish I could help you.” Instead, he said “I’ve got 300 crates that I don’t need back for six months – I’ll get them loaded up right away and you can borrow ours until you get your own.” And why?
Because Randy is an actual craft brewer, not a false one. And craft brewers are people of honor.”
As for contracting, while Oliver’s team has the capacity to brew 90,000 barrels of beer right in Brooklyn, the majority of its production takes place up in Utica at Matt Brewing.
“We’ve spent millions of dollars on equipment up there, and we’ll spend more. The Matt Brewery, having outlasted and outsmarted thousands of American breweries in its day, is still there, and still family-owned. It’s the biggest employer in the area. Without them, there would be no Brooklyn Brewery – we’d have gone under sometime in the 90s rather than celebrating our 25th year in 2013 with unprecedented growth and more vitality than ever.”
Turns out contract brewing may just be part of the fabric that makes up this craft beer thing.
Jarnit-Bjergsø is now proudly wearing the photo as his Facebook profile picture.