This isn't for all of you. Some of you should be opening breweries. But it's for most of you (and me, for that matter). For God's sake, stop opening breweries. You might be OK to ignore this if you live somewhere where there isn't a decent brewery within, say, 25 miles. And you've worked in an industrial setting (do you even weld, bro?). And you have extensive brewing experience. And you have a working knowledge of chemistry and biology. And you have some experience in marketing and sales. And/or you're rich or have access to a lot of slack credit. If you don't check these boxes and you're contemplating a brewery business plan right now, I'm talking to you.
Because lately I keep reading about and/or visiting breweries that fail on these basic, obvious things, and it's starting to piss me off because I'm now having to hear my macro-drinking neighbors tell me that they picked up some local brewery's beers, but didn't like them...and they're 100% right. This isn't, "oh, they usually drink Coors Lite and can't handle real beer." It's "oh, that beer legitimately doesn't taste good for a variety of reasons." You're always going to have differences in taste, but this is actually just poorly-made beer, and believe it or not (my palate-trained friends) while it might be hard to pick out the great from the good in terms of beer, picking out the terrible is pretty easy, and lots of people can do it.
The normals are noticing our quality problems. We need to get our shit together, and quick, and step one is to stop opening shoddy brewing operations.
You Don't Want To Do This...
I weighed in on this a while back, and noted that I don't really want to open a brewery, and maybe you shouldn't either. I'm taking that a step further now: this isn't a "maybe" anymore. You don't want to do this. And maybe you can't. And maybe you don't know that.
When I wrote that earlier piece, I was coming at it from the perspective that many people were well-meaning and would simply find that the brewing and non-brewing work involved didn't match up to their expectations. That they could do the job, but just might not ultimately want to.
I've abandoned that perspective. I'm now wondering if the people opening these breweries even know what they don't know. It's not a question of incentive and effort anymore: I'm more and more thinking it's a question of skill and ability and awareness.
I'm sure by now many of you have read this piece in Forbes about a trio of new brewers out in California. I don't mind that they seem a little douchey ("...when I walked into the bar to meet him I noticed we both wore Lucchese ostrich boots, and we became best buds ever since.”), or that they're riding some serious parental coattails, or that they're self-congratulatory.
It's that they don't seem to know obvious things about beer and brewing, and are repeating their misconceptions confidently to a writer for a national publication. Among their pearls of brewing wisdom:
- 30 days is actually a long time to lager a beer (Spoiler: IT ISN'T)
- There aren't any American-owned breweries making...Pilsner
- Showing commitment means to show up at accounts and shake hands with the people who buy and serve your beer
- Beers use an "array of different malts and hops" and that, apparently, has something to do with monitoring the beer's temperature?
I hate to pile on, but they're either VERY poorly quoted, or they have no business running a brewery. Maybe owning one...but, no, I can't even say that. I've known people who invest in breweries and bring in staff to run them because they lack those skills, but even THOSE people are intimately interested in and rapidly come up-to-speed on the basics of the market they're entering and the products they're producing.
And I wish this was atypical, but as I've noted before, I'm often shocked at the things brewers don't know. It's possible I've reached a tipping point where I can name as many less-than-competent brewers/owners than competent.
Airing Our Dirty Beer
Maybe you live in a good beer desert. I know this is true for some of our international readers, and surely many within the US despite the 6,000+ licensed breweries in our midst.
If so, then maybe any craft beer is better than none at all.
That doesn't seem like the norm, though. And it's concerning to me that when I look at the batting average of breweries opening here in the Northeast, it's pretty low. Used to be that when a new brewery opened the only question was whether it would be only-as-good or better than the other craft breweries in the area. Now I need to wonder whether it's as bad as the worst macro beer, and in addition I now need to question whether they know it's bad and are trying to fix it. Maybe it's different elsewhere in the country, but my communication with those in other regions suggest it isn't.
So if you're thinking about this, please, don't do it. And if you've already done it and think to yourself, "wow, I run a brewery! My beer is awesome and anyone who says otherwise is a crank!," then at least make sure you have a lab, a QC program, and are constantly seeking to improve your product.
As it stands, this used to be something that we'd only need to discuss as a niche community. But as I said, the outsiders are starting to notice. Craft beer isn't a fad, but lots of people still think it is, and if you think it's bad news when growth slows, start thinking about what will happen when the fad craft drinkers bail and the market actually contracts.
Out will come the knives. And I can't guarantee my or your favorite good brewery will survive.
I beg you: stop opening breweries. And for the rest of us, start steering your friends and neighbors to the good ones...maybe literally. Yes. Drive them to the breweries. Offer to pick up their beer for them from the distributor. Print your own redeemable coupons. Buy entire rounds for the people at the bar, but only if you get to pick what they drink.
Because they're starting to notice. And that's not the good thing it once was.
Keep it simple.