From the Editor – A Whole Lotta Ferment Goin' On
By Tony Forder
The Craft Brewing world is definitely in ferment. If you look at the roughly 30-year history of craft beer, we can equate it to brewing a batch of beer. The first years it took a long time to bring to the boil, then followed a very vigorous period of rolling boil – growth. Things were going along great, the wort was cooled, and the yeast was added.
It was a special kind of yeast – speckled with passion and dollars. At first the ferment was slow, but now it's taken ahold and appears to be very virulent. Just like bubbles of CO2 , frothing out from your homebrew, breweries were spawned all over the country (and still are). The power of dollars entering into the brew added strength to the fermentation resulting in brewery expansions everywhere. We'll see just how vigorous this yeast will turn out to be, and who it will eat up in this voracious ferment.
The guys at the top of the craft totem pole will probably be OK. Although sales volume of established brands like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Samuel Adams Lager slipped last year, breweries like these and New Belgium, Deschutes and Bell's probably have enough muscle to duke it out with the likes of A-B InBev takeovers such as Goose Island. The nanobreweries at the other end of the food chain will also likely continue their local tasting room bliss, oblivious to national machinations, until geographic glut knocks at their door. It is the mid-level breweries, the 30,000-50,000-bbl operations who have ponied up for brewery expansions that may feel the squeeze first as volume growth for craft beers has slowed to single digits for the first time in many years.