I have been lucky enough to call the Beer Business my career for 9+ years. I started out not knowing a thing, throwing cases of Bud and Labatt in a local store, wondering what “Flying Bison” was. Over the past 9 years, I have been able to experience a shift in this business, and the argument will carry whether this shift is good or bad for the industry.
Now, I am a craft beer lover, enjoying beers for their styles, no matter who brews them. I enjoy a good New England Style IPA that same way I enjoy the simplest Vienna Lager. I see this industry from both an emotional, and a financial view. With over 7,000 brewing licenses either active or ready to be active, and retail accounts adding craft beer every day, this is easily the most competitive industry in the world. So, I ask the question: Should you make your beer decisions based on emotion … or finance?
It is so easy to get caught up in the emotional aspect of beer. “I like this style, I don’t like that.” “I love this brewery, all of their stuff is great … none of the beer that comes out of that brewery is good.” We all feel the same way at one point or another. I definitely do. I have an admiration for the local breweries, calling many of them friends. Everyone from Tim Herzog at Flying Bison, Jeff Ware at Resurgence, Matt Kahn at Big Ditch, Jason Crossett at New York Beer Project, Scott Schuler a 12 Gates, Clay Keel at 42 North, Chris Herr at Pearl Street, and Scott Donovan at Blackbird Ciderworks. Sure, when I see their beer, I automatically gravitate to them. Take Flying Bison for instance: The emotional attachment to Tim Herzog and his band of brewers is the reason Try-It brought them on board to distribute in 2006. Without that relationship between Paul Vukelic (President of Try-It Distributing) and Tim Herzog, the risk of taking on a small, local brewery may not have been worthwhile. Now, we are proud to distribute for 8 local breweries and 2 local cideries and are happy to support local businesses every day.
So, when does finance come in? When does making money become the primary purpose of the beer industry? With over 7,000 breweries to choose from, how does one make a sound decision on what to offer to their consumer? There is data to support one brand over another; one package over another. I could easily prove to anyone that local is the hottest commodity in the industry right now, and every establishment should support local (#Buffalocal). Local beers account for over 50% of Try-It Distributing’s On Premise Draft business. 50%!! And that number was a lot smaller 3 years ago. Supporting local in Buffalo is not only a safe financial investment, but it should serve an emotional investment too.
What about Anheuser-Busch? From an emotional standpoint, I know some people refuse to support the “conglomerates” business because they are “buying out” craft breweries. The big bad wolf has purchased many prominent breweries, including Goose Island, Elysian, and most recently, Wicked Weed. Social Media blows up to the point of boycotting these great brands, all because their paychecks are sent from a different corporation. However, what if you thought about these transactions from a financial standpoint? These items are more widely available now due to the resources and distribution networks that large breweries have at their disposal. From many accounts, the beer is the exact same or even better when these small brewers get bought out. So, does this help our lovely Craft Beer Industry, or hurt it? To put it in perspective, the beer that ABI and other big breweries make is some of the best in the world when you look at it from a style comparison. Making the same batch of Budweiser or Michelob Ultra over and over again proves that they are some of the best technical brewers in the world!
To sum it up, where do I stand? It all depends on the decision. It is safe to say that this industry balances both emotional and financial weights in nearly every aspect. The love I have for the independent brewer is immense. I appreciate all of their hard work and dedication, creating some brands that completely rock my taste buds. However, I also appreciate the work that big breweries do when they brew batches of a American Light Lager and have it come out the same way every time. The precision and perfection they create every day should be celebrated.
At the end of the day, there is truly only one answer to all of these questions: It’s all up to you. It is your decision to make beer choices as a retailer or a consumer based on your emotion … or from your checkbook. And it is one of the greatest things I love about this industry! From consumer preferences, to buyer ones, emotion and finance have to be balanced so you can make the right decision at the right time. The lovely thing about craft beer is that there is a little something for everyone, whether it be the style or the price, and let us hope that never changes!
Dan Robinson is Head of Craft and Imports at Try-It Distributing, a local, family-owned beverage distribution company that began by selling soft drinks during Prohibition.