“C” is for Craft Beer, Community, and Contract Brewing

Image via Flickr/kitch

Lest we forget the things that bring us together are greater than the things that divide us.

We are Craft Beer. We are mighty, we are strong in the face of adversity, we push the envelope, we take chances, we aren.t afraid of change and differences, and we are inclusive, kind, understanding, communicative, and focused. We desire better beers and our journey is long. We are not dishonest or deceptive. We are good beer and we are the members of your local craft beer community!

It.s been a bit of a rough week in Boston.s craft beer world, as our community took a punch this week when two local brewers exchanged opinions on their respective blogs about contract brewing versus a more brick and mortar brewery approach to how beer is made nowadays. For the record, Heavy Seas Founder Hugh Sisson fired up this conversation in August of last year when he called out .gypsy brewers. by stating, .but to me, you.re not legit until you.ve got skin in the game, which means capital at risk.. What does it all mean and who really gives a shit?

Well, we do. It tears at our heart strings to know that our community of craft brewers and consumers is experiencing a struggle. We.re so tiny. The Brewer.s Association only recently released the 2012 craft beer industry numbers: we are officially 6.5 percent of the market! Whoa, that.s too small to be breaking down or breaking apart.

However, as several other local brewers have shared, we know that we aren.t exempt from the hard stuff. No community is, and eventually, with the massive growth that we have experienced over the past three to five years and an increase of people in the game, there.s bound to be disagreement. So here we are, struggling with whether a brick and mortar brewer is more legitimate than a contract brewer. We don.t think so, but it.s probably worth pointing out that contract brewing has a horrible reputation, carried over from the .70s and again the .90s when, as Will Meyers points out, many contract brewers were simply .beer marketing companies. and had no real love for or interest in the product…not to mention some of it was terrible!

In terms of education, in our two-and-a-half years as a retail craft beer center we.ve found that consumers don.t really understand the concept of contract brewing, mostly because there hasn.t been clear, definitive information about them. And, to that point, we believe some contract brewers have been unintentionally or accidentally deceptive about their role in getting their beer into bottles, claiming to be .the brewer. or a .one person show,. doing it all from recipes to brewing to marketing to delivering the beer. That.s an amazing vision, one single human being doing it all, and it does happen, but it.s pretty rare.

One example would be Ben Howe of Enlightenment Ales, who operates a nano facility out of Lowell, MA, where he produces fewer than 50 barrels per year, or approximately 15 cases per week, of his 750ml bottles. The truth is if a brewer wants to get a substantial amount of their product in the market, there.s no way to do it all.

Being a brick and mortar brewing facility connotes something built from hard work, dedication, and investment. In the past, this may have been what separated them from contract brewers and showed their tenacity and strength. And perhaps if you weren.t willing to invest in something more real, then it meant you weren.t that invested in the product. And that may very well have been true…back then.

Who can afford to build a brewery these days? Not many. And we understand that some contract brewers feel attacked when others are lay claim to the term .brewer. because they have their own facility. This is a new generation of craft beer and in order to continue to grow this segment, we have to stick together and embrace one another. This doesn.t mean that we have to accept bad products or that we don.t have an obligation to be absolutely transparent about what we do and how we do it. In this way we will prevail above the .beer marketing companies. that don.t care about the product.

We are leaders in this industry, not followers, and we mustn.t focus on the things that make us different, but rather on what brings us together to make up and continue to build upon that 6.5 percent of the beer market.

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