internet killing beer

Is the Internet Ruining Beer?

This week the San Diego craft beer community was hit with the news that two well-respected breweries will likely be closing down this month. Council Brewing (Kearny Mesa and Santee) and Benchmark Brewing (Grantville & Bay Park) both put out statements on Facebook. Council wrote a heart-breaking post thanking their patrons for their support and outlining the tough year they had business-wise.

 

While Benchmark’s announcement wasn’t that they are closing, they are in need of a buyer/influx of cash to save them from shuttering their doors. Owner, Rachael Akin, made this public post…

Pivot!

As I was writing this post, I was also perusing the news coming out about these two breweries and I saw a piece published today, by Ian Anderson for the Reader , that was pretty close to what I was going to ruminate on but instead of starting over on my blog piece, I got to thinking about one quote that stuck out of his well-written article…

“The internet is ruining beer,” she (Rachel from Benchmark) says, citing social beer review apps such as Untappd, where user earn added cachet for every new beer they rate. “People are seeking out very specific things that are only available very specific places,” Akin adds, noting that beer buyers have followed suit, consistently expecting breweries to come up with the next new hit. “You can’t just make beer that’s good to drink every day.”

Anderson writes, “She points to the proliferation of social media culture as contributing to the decline in business, as capricious fans spur each other to bypass familiar brews, regardless of quality, to chase beers that are new and hard to get.”

Is the internet ruining beer? Rachel makes an interesting and eye-opening point. Her assessment of people’s desire to find the next hot, new thing can be seen not only in the beer industry but across other industries too with similar, unintended negative effects.

Thank You, Instagram

Nature has taken a beating because of Instagram. Whether it’s people posting perfect pics of a secret beach they found (and often geotagging the spot too) or about an unnamed hike through a natural park, many beautiful and often environmentally sensitive locations are being blown up to the detriment of the locals and the environment itself.  People want to discover the next hot spot or secret locale, usually with little regard for the impact that sudden fame will have on the physical location. From parking to bathrooms to trash removal, a sudden influx of people, many of whom are not accustomed to “leave no trace” mentality of nature lovers, can be catastrophic to a once serene landscape.

This plays out in restaurants too. One might think that there is nothing better than getting your restaurant on a popular “top ten” or “best of” list. After all, who doesn’t want a bunch of new, hungry customers? Recently, Thrillist posted an article by a writer that was entitled, “I Found the Best Burger Place in America. And Then I Killed It.” He wrote about how he named a small Portland burger joint as having the best cheeseburger in the country and five months later it shut down with the owner lamenting that being number on this list was “the worst thing that ever happened” to the little restaurant. It’s a really interesting article so I encourage you to hit on the link above, but the gist was the owner said his little restaurant couldn’t handle the influx of new patrons. That people were waiting five hours in line for this burger, that his staff couldn’t handle the busier pace and the service suffered and in turn, the opinions going out the door were less than stellar.

Is this all part of the same problem? People’s hunger for lists, best-ofs, secret spots and finding the next hot craft beer is satiated by social media and the internet. So while the internet may not be totally ruining beer, it absolutely has changed the way that people consume and think about it.

A Little of This, A Little of That

What’s the answer though? Rate beer isn’t shutting down anytime soon and Instagram travel bloggers aren’t going anywhere. How do we as an industry change with the times and use the internet for all of its benefits vs. fall victim to its dark side? How can consumers not fall prey to the sweet song of the internet’s “best of” lists and hottest new trend?

There are no clear answers to this conundrum that many San Diego breweries are facing. Maybe as brewers, we have to try our best to stay relevant in the ever-changing beer-scape. To continue making the best beer we can and marketing it to not only craft beer fans but people outside the craft beer-bubble. It means changing with the times while still staying true to our roots and identity as a brewery. Running a brewery is expensive and growing that brand is even more expensive. It’s probably no coincidence that both Council and Benchmark opened new locations recently. While new locations are a way to increase revenue, they also increase overhead and labor and are expensive to build out. Both breweries also spoke of the over-saturation of the San Diego craft beer market as driving factors in their poor distribution sales. Expanded distribution tends to be a double-edged sword. Yes, it’s exciting that your beer gets in front of a bunch of new consumers but it costs a lot of money to have someone distribute your beer for you (or to self-distribute, those refrigerated trucks aren’t cheap) so then you have to produce and hopefully sell a lot more beer just to break even.

What can we do, as consumers, to support our favorite breweries? Maybe take Rachel’s words to heart and while it’s exciting to seek out the next new beer or brewery, if we have a favorite, make sure they are on our rotation more often and that we purchase their beer in stores. As much fun as it is when a new brewery opens its doors, in today’s San Diego craft beer market it also means an increase in competition for the other breweries out there. Not that competition is bad in a marketplace, but at some point there reaches a saturation point where it becomes hard for the industry to sustain itself. While one can argue whether or not San Diego has truly reached that saturation point yet, it remains true that if we want our favorite breweries to stick around, we need to buy their beer, plain and simple.

 

 

 

 


SDBW: It’s the Most Wonderful Week of the Year!

San Diego Beer week is almost here and that means, fun events, delicious food, good friends and of course, craft beer! Here at Thorn Brewing, not only do we have a full schedule of events at our two tasting rooms, but we also are participating in tons of exciting beer-centric events throughout San Diego. Here’s what we have coming up between 11/2 and 11/11 so get out your calendar and get some of our rad events on your schedule for SDBW 2018!

North Park Tasting Room Events

Nomad Donuts & Beer Pairing

Sat Nov 03rd | 12:30-2pm
(Click here for tickets)*

We have done pairings with Nomad Donuts for the last four years and every time they up their game. This time around, we are doing a 3×3 pairing with three of their artisan donuts with three of our craft beers for $18. The pairing starts at 12:30 and goes in order so make sure to get here at the start of the event. This one always sells out so make sure and get your tickets ASAP if you want to take part in this sweet beer week event!


Venissimo Cheese & Beer Pairing

Tue Nov 06th | 6pm
(Click here for tickets)*

It wouldn’t be San Diego Beer Week without a cheese and beer pairing with our good friends at Venissimo Cheese! Cheese and beer together are one of life’s greatest pleasures. Taste the marvelous medley that these two bring out in each other while getting a chance to talk to the experts. Rob Graff, cheese expert from Venissimo, and Eric O’Connor, Thorn’s brewmaster, will be taking guests through this delectable journey with five kinds of gourmet cheese paired with five of our beers.

Learn about the different styles of cheese, why the specific beers and cheeses pair well together as well as craft beer and the brewing process. It’s the perfect way to spend a Tuesday night!

$35 for five cheese courses and five 8-oz beers


Beer Trivia

Come and test your beer knowledge on Wednesday, November 7th at 7 pm. You don’t have to be a beer expert to play, however, as there are questions in all categories, just all pertaining to the greatest elixir, beer!

Wed Nov 07th | 7pm


IPA Lounge

Fri Nov 09th | 6pm

IPAs have helped put San Diego on the craft beer map and to honor their kick-ass hoppiness we are stocking our back bar with nine IPAs from brand new IPAs to fan-favorites. Stop by Friday, November 9th at 6 pm at Thorn North Park and imbibe in:

  • Relay IPA
  • Mystic Gnome IPA
  • Sticky Henderson IPA
  • Dank Rizzo IPA
  • Hopster Pot Hazy IPA
  • Plus surprise IPAs!

No tickets necessary, just come in and enjoy the IPA Lounge!


Barrio Logan Tasting Room Events

Service Pig IPA Can Release

Fri Nov 3rd | 2 pm

We are kicking off San Diego Beer Week with a new limited release can! Stop by the Barrio Logan tasting room on Friday, November 2nd, for a pint and a six-pack of this brand new IPA. This beer is a throwback to the classic West Coast IPA inspired by an old Temecula brewery’s IPA that helped put San Diego on the craft beer map. This recipe was originally brewed in collaboration with Toronado SD for their 10th anniversary and this can is a nod to their inclusivity of all service animals, no matter what kind. This 6.4% IPA is bursting with notes of tangerine, grapefruit, Meyer lemon, summer melon, and pine, with a solid malt backbone to balance it all out.

Releases at Thorn Barrio Logan on Friday, 11/2 at 2 pm and then at Thorn North Park on Saturday, 11/3 at 2 pm after the Nomad Donuts & Beer Pairing event.

_____________________________________________________________________________
Camino De La Cerveza

Sat Nov 03rd | 4pm at Thorn
If you haven’t been to all of the awesome breweries in Barrio Logan yet, this is your chance! On Saturday, November 3rd, starting at 4 pm take a stroll around historic Barrio Logan having a beer at each brewery location! Meet new friends or bring a slew of your own, it’s going to be a fun evening no matter what! Here’s how it’s all going to go down…

4 pm – Meet at Thorn Brewing (1745 National Ave) to meet up with other brewery crawlers and hosts.
4:45 – Iron Fist Brewing San Diego (1985 National Ave)
5:30 – Attitude Brewing Company (1985 National Ave too)
6:15 – Altabrewingsd (1983 Julian Ave)
7:00 – Border X Brewing (2181 Logan Ave)

Don’t worry if you can’t make it for the beginning, just catch up with us along the way at the designated times!


The Pioneer BBQ & Beer

Sun Nov 04th | 1-4pm
(Click here for tickets)*

We are super excited to for this San Diego Beer Week event…BBQ and Beer with Pioneer Barbecue! Chef Hanis Cavin, owner/operator of the famed Carnitas’ Snack Shack(s) is behind this smokin’ BBQ spot and we are excited to kick off beer week at Thorn Barrio Logan with a collaboration with them. His food is amazing and the portions are awesome, so definitely make this one of your beer week events. Here are the details:

Sunday, 11/4, 1-4 pm at Thorn Barrio Logan

Tickets – $22 (plus ticketing fees) for a large plate of the following PLUS a Thorn beer of your choice. Suggested pairings will be available on the day of the event…

Menu:
Dry rubbed smoked ribs
Smoked spicy pork cheddar sausage
Beer brined and smoked chicken wings

Sauces: St. Louis BBQ, Carolina BBQ, Ivan’s spicy BBQ

Mac n cheese – bacon topped
Smoked pork belly baked beans

Plates will be a combo of all!


Fede & Shannon Guest Bartending from Hoppy Beer Hoppy Life

Mon Nov 05th | 5-11pm

Stop by the brewery on our Industry Night and chat it up with our guest bartenders, Fede and Shannon from Hoppy Beer Hoppy Life!


Barrel-Aged Beer Night

Wed Nov 07th | 2-10pm

Join us on Wednesday, November 7th at Thorn Barrio Logan, for a special San Diego Beer Week edition of our Barrel-Aged Beer Night! We will be pouring:

  • Barrel Inception (Dark Tsar infused with coffee)
  • BA Abbey Roof Belgian Ale
  • BA Dark Tsar Russian Imperial Stout
  • BA Dark Tsar Russian Imperial Stout Uncut

Enjoy specials on barrel-aged bottles and glasses too!


Sour Beer Night and I Bless The Grains Beer Release

Fri Nov 09th | 2-10pm

Whether you love sour beers already or have never tasted one before, this event is for you! We have a full list of Thorn sours that will excite your taste buds with their delightful tartness and effervescence.

We are also releasing I Bless The Grains, a Sour Brut IPA hopped with all South African hops in collaboration with Thr3e Punk Ales Brewing Co. This 6.66% beer is pale yellow in color with a thin white head, effervescent with hints of pineapple, Meyer lemon, tangerine, guava, grapefruit, pear, and subtle grassiness. You can expect a nice puckering tartness with a clean, dry finish laced with citrus and tropical fruit flavors from the hops. The hops that were used are African Queen, Southern Passion, and Experimental XJA/436.

Beer list:
To Blave Hoppy Sour Pale Ale
I Bless the Grains Sour Brut
Rustic Ralph Peach – Brett Saison aged in chardonnay barrels
Rustic Ralph Blackberry – Brett Saison aged in chardonnay barrels
Cherry Sour
Plum Sour


All the Hops

Sat Nov 10th | 12-11pm
Why only taste some of the hops when you can have all the hops? All day, on November 10th at Thorn Barrio Logan, we will be serving all our hoppiest beers for your bitter-palate-pleasure. Stop by for a pint or taste your way through them all!
10 IPAs on tap including:

  • Relay IPA
  • Wedding Bliss Pale Ale
  • Mystic Gnome IPA
  • Hopster Pot Hazy IPA
  • Menace IIPA
  • Rock the Pale Ale

and more…

That’s it for Thorn tasting room events, but we also are taking part in a bunch of events around town. For more information on these events go to our “Events Around Town” page and check out the exciting stuff we have planned.

lagunitas change thorn brewing

Things’ll Never Change…

Heineken owned Lagunitas Brewery recently announced that they laid off more than 100 employees or about 12% of their entire workforce. Most of the layoffs were at their Petaluma headquarters and were across all departments. Punctuating this bummer-of-a-day for the ex-employees was a resurfaced 2013 tweet from Lagunitas founder, and now Heineken’s Director of Global Craft, Tony Magee:

thorn brewing change

These are prophetic words for the more than 100 people getting the pink slip. While he did express sadness about the layoffs (“today was a rough day as were the last week of considerations.”), this tweet definitely cuts deep from someone that once fiercely supported independent beer and then framed selling out to Heineken as “buying in” and described the sale as “using Lagunitas’ equity to buy deeper into an organization that will help us go farther more quickly than we could have on our own.” This last quote is from last year so what exactly has changed?

It’s not surprising that Lagunitas is feeling the pinch that many other large, regional breweries have been feeling the last couple of years. The pinch that comes from increased hyper-local competition and the immense amount of choice a beer consumer faces in an ever-changing landscape of craft beer. This sentiment was expressed by Lagunitas CEO, Maria Stipp, in her prepared statement to the press after announcing the layoffs. “The craft beer market is rapidly evolving and, in many ways, more challenging. More breweries, more choices …”

The Times They Are A-Changin’

What is surprising, however, is the change of tune this seems to be from a recent interview that Stipp gave to Brewbound. In the late-August piece, Stipp said that Lagunitas “ranks fourth in dollar share (up 4 percent) and sixth in volume (up 5 percent) through July 14, according to data from market research firm Nielsen.”

Furthermore, Brewbound reported that Lagunitas ranks No.1 in craft beer brands by dollar share and volume, both up 3%. In 2017, Lagunitas’ beer production rose 7%, to 984,000. That means they hold a 16% share of volume and dollar share in California. With this healthy outlook from August, it’s interesting that they are in enough financial trouble right now that they need to cut out 12% of their staff.

Parent Companies Just Don’t Understand

What good is selling out to a mega-brewery if they don’t provide somewhat of a safety net when it comes to financial issues at the once-independent brewery? When the Cox Brothers were interviewed a year after 10 Barrel sold to AB InBev, they gushed about their new access to capital and cash flow they received from their parent company.

Also, it was only last year that Heineken bought the last half of Lagunitas. In 2015, they paid nearly $500 million for 50%, so let’s assume with the slowing growth in craft beer Heineken got the second half for much less. Even if it was around $200 million, where did that money go exactly? To Magee and other investors? One would think that some of that cash could have been used to keep these 100 employees on the payroll.

In many of the articles written about these layoffs, they are compared to a few other recent layoffs including those weathered at Constellation, New Belgium laying off 4% of their workers and the Green Flash downsizing that happened earlier in the year. But all of these are different than the situation at Lagunitas because they weren’t posting the growth or market dominance that Lagunitas reported in August, the last two don’t have billion-dollar parent companies looking out for them, and the Constellation move was a conglomerate streamlining their sales team across all of their craft breweries, Ballast Point, Funky Buddha, and Four Corners.

These layoffs could be just another symptom of the craft beer market slowing along with regional breweries’ struggle to stay relevant in an ever-changing market. However, it seems like the sentiment that “things won’t change around here, we have the same awesome people brewing the same awesome beer,” a common expression from breweries that sell to big beer, just isn’t true in the end.

 

 

 

 

 

people at gabf

GABF: Bigger, Better, Unfiltered

This week marks the start of one of the most attended and talked about craft beer festivals in the country. With more than 62,000 expected attendees sipping on 4000 different beers put out by 800 breweries from across the country, this year’s Great American Beer Festival is shaping up to be the biggest craft beer party ever.

Changes From 2017

Each year, brewers from across the country descend on Denver, CO, to network, drink, pour, and celebrate the craft of brewing beer. While GABF tickets used to sell out the day tickets were released, this year there were Thursday night tickets available leading up to that first session. This was because organizers added an extra 100,000 square feet to the event footprint which is a 17% increase from last year, allowing them to sell an extra 2000 tickets. That’s good news for slackers and procrastinators but there are usually people selling tickets to get in outside the event center each evening if you want to try and attend last minute.

One of the simplest changes made this year, with possibly the biggest impact on attendees, was to organize the breweries by alphabetical order rather than geographical region. With 4000 beers spread out in a hall the size of 8 football fields, not being able to find breweries was an issue, so this is a welcomed change.

Another change this year is the addition of hazy IPAs to the GABF competition category list. This was the first year that breweries could submit beers in “Juicy or Hazy Pale Ales,” “Juicy or Hazy IPAs,” and “Juicy or Hazy Double IPAs.” While scoring beers on their perceived “juiciness” might have seemed like a joke a few years ago, make no mistake, these categories will be turning out some fierce competition this year.

If throngs of crowds aren’t your thing, Denver’s got your back. As much fun as the actual festival is are all the craft beer related events happening at breweries and bars throughout the week leading up to GABF. September 14th kicked off Denver Beer Fest (their beer week) and there are more than 160 beer-centered events leading up to and happening during GABF. Whether you like sours, barrel-aged beers or have a hankering for firkins, there is something for every craft beer lover happening in Denver this time of year.

The More You Know…

Having been lucky enough to attend GABF before, there are a few things that stuck with me:

1. Not only is the festival incredibly fun but everyone I met seemed to be in a fantastic mood. Furthermore, I’ve never seen such happy or well-prepared volunteers at a festival before and considering there are more than 4000 volunteers, that’s a pretty big feat. In fact, it’s pretty hard to get a job volunteering for this festival and you have to be recommended by a previous volunteer to get the coveted job of pouring the beer for attendees.

2. You will not get to try all the beers you want to. Just accept it now, you will have to prioritize.  With 4000 beers to taste, you really have to geographically plan out your strategy for getting to the beers you want to taste in the time allowed. Especially considering some of the most popular booths have long lines and the fact that you also need to cover 585,000 sq. feet of convention center to get to those beers. Luckily, the organizers have got you covered and you can download a GABF app that you can use to map out your drinking for the night.

3. Don’t expect to use your cell phone while in the conference center. Last year, there was always a point in the session where the number of people simply overloaded whatever cell network/WIFI they had going on in the great hall. This can be an issue when you split up from your friends and don’t talk about a meetup point and it’s surprisingly difficult to pick out your people from a crowd of 20,000.

Thorn at GABF

We sent our crazy Thorn brew crew to Denver on Wednesday to represent so if you are GABF bound, make sure to stop by our booth and say hello. That was one of the most fun parts of being there last year, meeting all the new and old Thorn fans and chatting with so many great people. This year we entered four beers from Thorn North Park and four from Thorn Barrio. Our brewers worked incredibly hard to not only brew these beers but to bottle and ship them so that they arrive in peak condition. Here are the beers we entered along with the categories they were entered in. If you want to watch the awards ceremony live, you can tune into the Brewing Network for their live stream starting at 10 am in Denver (9 am here in San Diego).

Thorn Beer GABF Entries
  • Relay IPA – American IPA (Thorn Brewing Barrio Logan) – Cat. 62
  • Barrio Lager – American Lager (BL) – Cat. 38.a
  • Cinderella’s Midnight Ride – Pumpkin Spice (BL) – Cat. 6.b
  • Hopster Pot – Hazy/Juicy IPA  (BL) – Cat. 63
  • BA Abbey Roof Belgian Quad – Wood-Aged Strong Beer (Thorn Street Brewery North Park) – Cat. 28
  • Gutter Clown – American Strong Pale (NP) – Cat. 61
  • Dank Rizzo – American IPA (NP) – Cat. 62
  • ES Beetleguise – Extra Special Bitter (NP) – Cat. 71.b

– Anna Brigham

 

big beer Thorn brewing

Pay No Attention To The Big Beer Behind The Curtain

Recently, Vinepair put out an article entitled, “Craft Beer Was Built on an Us-Versus-Them Ethos. Now It’s Tearing Us Apart.” Strong words from the start, but I was eager to learn more. The author, Aaron Goldfarb, has a simple thesis when it comes to the issue of independence in beer:

It’s all in the eye of the beholder. And it’s causing a rift that is tearing apart the industry. This is a golden age of infighting among brewers, among fans, and among the beer media. It risks harming the entire beer industry with all its finger-pointing.

Right away, he places the blame on craft breweries for causing a rift that he feels is tearing the industry apart. He laments that independent breweries pulled out of Beavertown’s beer fest (which he describes as “a cult North London craft brewery owned by a Led Zeppelin rocker’s kid.” He goes on to deride the breweries that pulled out of both Beavertown’s Extravaganza and Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium Invitational after both breweries sold to big beer. “Why, there’s that esprit de corp the industry was built on!” he writes.

The strategy of this piece relies on laying out all the different ways that breweries have grown through investments, from big beer (Beavertown by Heineken) to private equity investors (Brewdog, Cigar City) to being bought or invested in by less-vilified big breweries (Duvel Moortgat and Firestone Walker etc.). He asks how these investments are different from each other? That if one investor is considered the “them” in this “us vs. them” scenario he harps on, why aren’t they all? Goldfarb goes on to compare the craft beer industry’s us vs. them ethos to other industries:

This small-versus-big, indie-versus-corporate, us-versus-them side-taking exists in just about every creative field, yet it doesn’t seem to result in nearly as much annoying, buzz-killing, business-bankrupting infighting.

Dave Eggers went from a hip, San Fran novelist to a publishing magnate. David Chang from owning a small noodle shop to a restaurant empire. Michael Kors from a small luxury brand to a rapidly expanded fashion house. They’ve all had mixed success and certainly muddied their legacies, but no one small feels threatened by their mere existence.

Finally, he wrapped up his piece by describing his favorite illustration of the “real boogie man” when it comes to craft beer…and it’s one that has been suggested time and time again by big beer:

I thought this was best lampooned by the Good Beer Hunting twitter account, which tweeted a video of a snake fighting a cat while simultaneously being eaten by a frog and simply captioned it: “Craft fighting macro while wine + sprits eats market share. (sic)”

All Investors Are Not Created Equal

First, to cut through all of the bull in this piece, not all investors are the same. Just because a brewery seeks outside investment it doesn’t automatically make them a “them.” The reason why many craft beer insiders and consumers are bummed when their favorite craft brewery is sold to AB InBev, MillerCoors or Heineken is because these big breweries are actively trying to squash the ability for smaller breweries to compete fairly in the marketplace.

They put big money into lobbying for legislation that favors big beer (AB InBev spent nearly $8 million lobbying last year while the Brewers Association spent $294,000 on lobbying in the same period). They take part in pay-to-play tactics with stores, bars, and restaurants earning tap handles and cooler space (and have been fined multiple times for such practices). They buy up wholesalers and distributors and in some regions, they are the only distributors for craft beer. On top of that, they incentivize these distributors to heavily sell their portfolio which they were fined for in 2017 citing anti-competitive practices.

Furthermore, AB InBev has its hands in every part of the beer industry. From owning stake in online beer related sites like RateBeer, October, and Good Beer Hunting, to owning both Midwest Supply and Northern Brewer, the two biggest homebrew supply companies in the country, to the countless alcohol distributors they own, to all the craft breweries that they have purchased over the last few years. AB InBev is invested in nearly every segment of this industry.

So when Goldfarb wants to know why people don’t view private equity firms or Kirin (which invested in Brooklyn Brewery) in the same light as being bought by big beer, this is why. They don’t actively and underhandedly try and fix the competition to favor themselves to the detriment of little players in the industry.

This is also why his comparison to Michael Kors or David Chang going big-time doesn’t hold water. David Chang doesn’t go around lobbying for laws that make it harder for the mom and pop shops to operate. Michael Kors doesn’t buy up all of a specific cloth so that it’s only available for his shops like AB In Bev did with the South African hop market last year, either.

Consider the Source

Goldfarb’s arguments are tired but they are also incredibly familiar. The whole “it’s not big beer, it’s wine and spirits!” argument was used by AB In Bev in their video by the High End where they laid out all the reasons why selling to Big Beer was awesome. Also, lumping together all manners of investments to try and make it seem like, “hey, they are all the same so if you don’t mind when a private equity firm invests you shouldn’t care when big beer invests,” is definitely muddying the waters. Who is this guy that identifies himself as an “us” multiple times in his piece when he is clearly acting on behalf of “them?”

Among other publications like Vinepair, Goldfarb is a regular contributor to October, a ZX Venture funded lifestyle website.  ZX Ventures is AB InBev’s venture capital team that was created to develop new products for AB. ZX Ventures just got a promotion because they just took over the whole marketing department for AB InBev. Furthermore, Goldfarb’s favorite illustration mentioned above was from Good Beer Hunting, another AB InBev owned online publication. Finally, he goes on to lament that the Brewers Association is “the most divisive player of any one currently in the industry.” Hmmm. This was exactly the sentiment of Pete Coors recently in his open letter to the beer industry.

The King of Craft Beer

Big beer is smart and has deep pockets so they have been successful these last few years in their quest to break into and ultimately dominate the craft beer industry. So successful, in fact, that Budweiser was just named the biggest craft brewer in the U.S. AB InBev’s stable of craft breweries is paying off, especially when their revenue from Bud and Budlight have dropped another 3% in the second quarter of the year despite lower volume produced than previous years. It’s likely they will continue to build their craft beer segment with these successes and continue to infiltrate every aspect of the industry.

And no, craft beer is not tearing itself apart. If anything, this discussion is good for the industry.  While many consumers don’t and won’t care who owns their favorite beer, for others, this sort of information is helpful and eye-opening. Transparency and shining the light on unfair and underhanded tactics employed by players within an industry only make it stronger in the end.

 

 

Beavertown

British Backlash: Beavertown Sells Minority Stake to Heineken

While most American beer consumers probably haven’t heard of the British craft brewery, Beavertown, it’s a beloved brand across the pond. It was, at least, until the predictable backlash started after a recent announcement by founder and CEO, Logan Plant. Plant is the son of Robert Plant of Led Zepplin fame and his brewery, Beavertown, has seen incredible growth in the 6 years. The brewery also puts on a craft beer fest with a brewery list that is half-filled with American craft brewery darlings like Monkish, Trillium, Treehouse, Alesmith, Modern Times and Three Floyds to name a few. Plant even gave a memorable and rousing speech at last years Beavertown Extravaganza lambasting big beer. “The puppet master that is Big Beer is stirring and starting to swipe its tentacles far and wide across this beer industry,” He told the crowd at BeaverEx17, according to one Facebook poster.

Yesterday, it was announced that Beavertown was going to grab ahold of one of those tentacles by selling a minority stake in their company to Heineken. They declined to announce the percentage of the stake, but it’s pretty safe to assume it’s beyond the 25% that American Brewers Association set as the limit of non-craft brewery ownership. Otherwise, they wouldn’t keep it a secret. It could be as much as 49% much like the 50% that Heineken bought of Lagunitas a few years back before eventually buying 100% of Lagunitas. While Plant and Beavertown tried to get out in front of the story by posting a Q&A and a blog post, many people were, unsurprisingly, bitter about the new partnership on social media.

beavertown

Funkatorium All Over Again

Perhaps some of the most upset people were ones that had already purchased tickets to Beavertown’s lauded Beavertown Extravaganza.

thorn brewing beavertown

Filled with U.S. and U.K. craft breweries this festival always promoted the independent brewer and the 2017 fest was when Plant made a speech about the evils of Big Beer. With the announcement of the partnership with Heineken, some of the craft breweries have already pulled out including, Brewdog, Treehouse, Cloudwater and Veil Brewing. When people asked for their money back they were told no but to hold on, Beavertown was still assessing the situation.

beavertown

When Wicked Weed sold to AB InBev last year they too also ran a successful festival called the Funkatorium Invitational known for getting some of the top breweries in the country. When they sold, so many breweries pulled out of their festival that they canceled it and haven’t resurrected it in 2018. Not that a brew fest will get in the way of the millions of dollars that both breweries have now that they are in bed with big beer but it does leave a lot of bitter fans.

In His Own Words

The Q&A with Plant is an interesting read, mostly because his unabashed ambition is clear in the post. When asked why he picked Heineken he said, “This is about ambition. I am driven to take myself, our team and the brewery to new levels.” Crystal clear.

Apparently, Plant’s idea was always to open one of the largest craft brewery operations in the U.K. called Beaverworld. Beaverworld will give them the ability to brew ten times the amount they brew now on a fully automated brew system. He states, “We are now going to build one of the grandest platforms to shout loud and proud from. I want Beaverworld to be one of the world’s best brewery experiences both from a technical standpoint and as a visitor experience.”

When asked if it was hypocritical of him to partner with big beer after being critical of them he says, “Yes, during the Symposium at BeaverEx17 I criticised some aspects of what big brewers do and I recognise that some people will not be happy with my decision to take investment from one. I didn’t take the decision lightly.”

He further spoke of his admiration of Heineken and why he picked them. “The culture and values across their team are heralded and I take inspiration from the great journeys their team members have been on, progression through their company is amazing and something we have always tried to promote at Beavertown. So, we share many values, both cultural and brand specific, with them.”

What’s interesting about this is that while Heineken may have a good reputation from their team members, they don’t have a great reputation in other areas. A recent case study on Heineken was released called Heineken in Africa, which outlines a company with quite questionable values:

Heineken in Africa is the result of three years of thorough research, not only in the eleven African countries where Heineken has its own breweries and joint ventures but also in the company’s archives and literature. The author has spoken to almost 300 sources within and around the company.

The book has revealed many controversial facts and practices that made headlines in the Netherlands. It shows how Heineken collaborates with dictators, authoritarian governments and an alleged war criminal, how it’s using a mysterious Belgian operating company for tax avoidance in African countries and that the company is tied to human rights violations and high-level corruption. 

All of this paints a picture of a company bent on ambition, ripe for selling to a bigger brewer. It’s clear from his own words that his ambition was to grow far and grow fast and realistically that’s hard to do without the deep pockets of big beer. While many UK craft beer drinkers are upset because this doesn’t align with their values, it certainly seems to align with the values of Plant.

Maybe that’s something for consumers to remember when their beloved brand sells to big beer. While everyone has their own perception a brewery that they support, that perception might not be shared in the goals of the brewery itself. Furthermore, that brewery/owner might be paying you lip service, much like Plant did at last year’s BeaverEx17. He was playing the craft beer game until it suited him to level up. Likely, this injection of $55 Million will shoot their production and availability through the roof in their quest to be on every corner. Just be wary the next time a brewery lays their ambitions so nakedly at your feet. When the single quest is the ambition to grow as fast and wide as they can, the writing may already be on the wall.

thorn brewing trends

Craft Beer Trends to Kick Off the Summer

Recently, DSM, a health and wellness company, conducted a study of more than 3,300 beer consumers from 7 different countries in North America and Europe and asked them questions about craft beer. While statistics and studies need to be taken with a grain of salt, they can help identify broader trends in a market, including craft beer consumption. One factor of this study to take into account is that it’s a world-wide study vs. one with only U.S. participants. While the craft beer scene here in the States has been booming for some time (and many publications have lamented that the craft beer bubble is bursting) in other places where people were surveyed, the craft beer movement is in its younger stages. That’s not to discount the findings at all, it’s just something to keep in mind as we look for trends or insights from the study.

It’s All About The Taste

Not only do 66% of the responders drink craft beer because of the taste, it also seemed to be the biggest reason why people in this study choose a specific craft beer. In fact, 75% chose taste as the biggest factor when deciding which beer to buy. What’s interesting about this is that taste won out over price, which shows that craft beer consumers are not afraid to pay a premium for good beer. This is also good news for smaller craft breweries that have to compete with larger breweries when it comes to marketing and branding. Yes, people like a catchy graphic, but it’s not a driving force into which beers people buy. Make a quality product that tastes great and you have the best chance that someone will choose that beer again. Furthermore, 66% said that the word “premium” helped draw them to a specific beer and that drinking craft beer felt more special than drinking non-craft beer. We love making people feel special, one beer at a time.

You Are Only As Good As Your Last Beer

It’s no secret that craft beer drinkers are adventurous. So adventurous, in fact, that one of the more interesting findings from this study was there isn’t a whole lot of brand loyalty with this group of craft beer consumers. 80% said that they would continue to experiment with new brands vs. stay loyal to one brand. This is a concerning statistic when thinking about building a brand, but also one that makes sense. People won’t blindly buy beer from a brand that isn’t stellar just because they are their local brewery or because they had a good beer in the past. What this tells us, is that as brewers we need to keep quality, tasty beer our number one priority and we need to keep things fresh for consumers. We can’t be afraid to experiment with new styles and flavors and pushing the proverbial envelope. We need to keep evolving and not rest on a set of core beers, because although we will always have our super-fans, to continue growing, we need to stay relevant with the adventurous consumer.

The Definition of Craft Beer Is Fluid

While the buzzwords “local” and “craft” are still market drivers, it wasn’t for the exact reasons you would expect. 87% of responders said that they define craft beer as beer brewed in small batches by a microbrewery. No mention of if the local beer was brewed in close proximity to them and no mention of independent vs. non-independent, which is not surprising. Sometimes we in the industry can get caught up in our own echo-chambers of what’s important and what people care about. I personally, care about whether my beer is independent and know a lot of others that feel the same way, but we have to remember that by-and-large, people make up their own definitions for things. So while the study found that people prized “local” beers, it was not because they were necessarily brewed close to home, but because to them, the word signified that the beer is made in small batches, using local, fresh ingredients. Furthermore, a majority of responders expressed interest in trying local craft beers from around the world further driving the point that people are more interested in what characteristics they felt a local beer would have vs. being loyal to a local brand because it was brewed in their backyard. This is good news for breweries breaking into new distribution areas. That while many craft beer consumers will still drink what local first because it has a good chance of being the freshest, other characteristics of craft beer area driving factor in which beers people choose to drink.

In the end, while these studies can be helpful in understanding trends and consumers in a broad way, there are many factors that go into why people buy the beer that they buy. However, it does give us things to think about and we can all revel in the finding that people are continuing to drink craft beer with 80% of the responders saying that craft beer is not just a delicious fad, craft beer is here to stay.


Heady Topper Invades San Diego

A couple of weeks ago, we saw rumblings on social media that Heady Topper, from The Alchemist in Vermont, was available in select bottle shops and bars around San Diego. My first thought was that these were black market beers since The Alchemist famously doesn’t distribute beyond an incredibly tiny footprint in Vermont. For years, if people outside of this 25 square miles wanted to get their hands on a Heady Topper, they had to trade for it or make the pilgrimage to Vermont, wait in line, and get their allotment of this hazy brew.  So how did Heady Topper, along with Focal Banger IPA and Crusher IPA, get so far West?

thorn brewing heady topper

Heady Out West

It turns out, the good people at The Alchemist did, in fact, send the beer out to SoCal. According to The Full Pint, who reached out to the Vermont brewery, they stated :

“Every now and again, we have some extra pallets of beer that we like to send sporadically to different markets. We’ve sent pallets to New York City for example, and we decided to send some to the Los Angeles and surrounding markets.”

Considering just how many posts we’ve seen announcing the beer at different locations throughout San Diego, that has to be a lot of pallets. Especially if they distributed beer to L.A. too. Could they really have that many extra pallets sitting around? Maybe. But maybe they are testing the market out here to see just how well their beer would do if the were to expand distribution. If it’s any indication, people were quite excited to see The Alchemist’s beers out here and get the opportunity to get their hands on them while they are fresh.

All It’s Hopped Up To Be?

For those uninitiated, Heady Topper is perhaps the original hazy IPA. Once infamously hard to get, this beer has been the gold standard in hazy IPAs by which many others are measured. Hazy IPAs were New England brewers’ answers to the dry, hop-monsters of the West Coast. By tweaking brewing recipes they were able to create IPAs that people described as tropical, fruity and juicy. Why juicy? Probably because these beers are known for their bright, tropical notes and soft finish. While hazy beers were once thought of as a flash-in-the-pan style, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, this year, the Great American Beer Festival will create a category for hazy ales in a move that legitimizes this growing style further.

I took a trip to Vermont in April and brought back so many local IPAs that I had to buy a suitcase to hold them all. There really is a ton of great beer coming out of Vermont and this haul was no exception. This time, I brought back Head Topper, Focal Banger, Sip of Sunshine from Lawson’s Finest Liquids, Cone Head from Zero Gravity, and Second Fiddle from Fiddlehead Brewery. One notable thing was that it wasn’t difficult to get Heady Topper or Focal Banger this time around in VT. When, on previous trips, I had to align just right with drop-off times and locations to score a 4-pack, this time around, it was available pretty much in every bottle shop I went to. If the market for Heady is softening in VT, it could be one reason why they might be testing out new markets for distribution.

I brought the beers back to the brewery and we tasted through the East Coast IPAs. First, let’s be clear, they were all great beers. All were hoppy, bright and fresh, with a touch of malt character when compared to many West Coast IPAs. One thing did stand out to me; now that hazy IPAs have been a thing for a couple years out here in SD, the San Diego brewing community has gotten pretty good at making them. So good, that many San Diego hazy IPAs rival if not surpass Heady Topper and Focal Banger. When I first tasted Heady, years ago, I was deliciously surprised by the style, the myth, and the taste. Now, we have so many great hazy IPAs available to us that while the beer was still good, it didn’t seem to pack the punch it once did to my palate. Perhaps my palate has even evolved somewhat to expect the juice-bombs that we enjoy here in SD, including Thorn’s own Hopster Pot Hazy IPA. The West Coast likes going big, and it appears that our take on hazy IPAs is no exception.

In the end, if The Alchemist starts distributing regularly here to San Diego, it would be a welcomed addition to our already rich San Diego beer scene. After all, we aren’t exclusionary of non-local beers, as long as they are good and with the high-quality beers coming out of this Vermont brewery, that wouldn’t be an issue.

Do you have a favorite San Diego hazy IPA that you think is as good or better than Heady Topper?

big beer thorn brewing

Big Beer Wants Unity…When It Suits Them

The Brewer’s Association pulled no punches at the annual Craft Brewer’s Conference that was recently held in Nashville. BA chairman, Eric Wallace, addressed the issue of big beer in a fiery speech:

“Clever and deceptive packaging design, omission of ownership statements on labels, intellectual-property violations, denigrating and expensive marketing campaigns, monopolistic practices choking off raw materials and distribution channels, rampant violations of trade practices and exclusionary tactics in venues and accounts in many markets — these guys are out to eat our collective lunch and take your kids’ lunch money as well.”

Pete Coors’ Plea

He’s not wrong, but his words did draw the ire of Pete Coors, chairman of the board for Molson Coors Brewing Co. So much so that Pete decided to write an open letter to the BA about it. Don’t mind the fact that he never sent the open letter to anyone at the BA or that it was only released in a trade publication, Beer Business Daily, which is membership-based. Because nothing stays hidden on the internet, Coors knew that the open letter would leak out to everyone anyway. Still, it’s pretty funny to release an “open letter” that only goes to a small select few tradespeople. The full letter can be viewed here on Brewbound, but there are a few choice parts.

The leadership of the Brewers Association does a great disservice to the entire beer value chain by attempting to pit one part of the industry against another.

You must know that it is insulting to those of us who don’t meet the clever criteria of your self-proclaimed definition of “craft brewer.” This approach prioritizes insults and division over unity for a beverage that has been used to unify and celebrate together for generations.

We share distributors, many of whom would not be able to distribute Brewers Association beers without the scale provided by the large brewers. You claim that your members are precluded from distribution at retail, while I visit account after account that do not carry any “big brewer” products.

That is a slippery slope that does not end well for our industry. We have enough competition inside the beer business and outside it with wine, spirits and, increasingly, marijuana.

You undermine your credibility by pitting us against one another to the ultimate detriment of the entire beer industry.

Coors’ letter stirring lots of feelings throughout the craft beer community and ignited many rebuttal letters, including a well written, point-by-point letter from founder and owner of Ninkasi Brewing, Nikos Ridge.  It also garnered a letter of support from Coors’ big brother, AB InBev, in a letter from CEO Michel Doukeris to wholesalers that was posted in a tweet by Harry Schuhmacher from Beer Biz Daily:

Scott Metzger or @beermonkey on Twitter had a few choice tweets for Michel Doukeris and his “unity speech”:

Metzger’s tweets are a succinct argument for why these pleas for unity seem disingenuous. This argument that all beer brands need to stand together against outside threats from liquor, wine, and now Mary Jane is a familiar one. It was used in the AB InBev’s promo video called “Six Viewpoints from the High End” which simultaneously called for unity and crapped on the BA’s, at the time, new independent beer seal. Why does craft beer need Big Beer in this fight? Craft beer has grown in this country despite big beer, not because of it. Independent craft beer is still such a small segment of the overall beer market and these big brewers have so much more weight to throw around, legally and politically. It’s not surprising that AB InBev would praise the viewpoint of Coors, but after so many of their marketing dollars spent maligning craft beer, why would they be pushing for unity now?

Why Big Beer Want Unity

It’s pretty clear why Coors and ABinBev want the support of the craft beer community. Sales and volumes are dropping for Big Beer and they are struggling to stop the bleeding. As reported by Fortune,

AB InBev, Heineken, and Molson Coors have all reported significant drops in beer volume in the U.S. in the first quarter of this year. According to The Wall Street Journal, AB InBev (BUD, -2.46%) saw a 4.1% drop, Molson Coors (TAP-A) a 3.8% drop, and Heineken (HKHHF, +0.64%) saw a “high-single-digit percentage” drop.

Craft beer has also has seen a dip in growth over the last two years, but overall, the craft breweries that Big Beer has bought out, are doing pretty fantastic. Terrapin Brewing, which sold to MillerCoors a couple years ago, is doing great sales-wise with a 25% growth in sales through the end of March. Golden Road Brewing, owned by AB InBev, opened up a brewery and beer garden in Sacramento to a full house after much opposition from Sacramento area independent brewers. Maybe this is why Big Beer wants to focus on “uniting” the craft segment. Focus on what’s working, in the U.S. at least, and put money where the growth is still happening, even if it’s at a slower rate than in previous years. It seems even with indie brewers working to distance themselves from Big Beer, the bulk of craft beer buying people don’t know or don’t care who owns these former craft breweries.

Craft brewers have long memories and there have been too many instances of Big Beer behaving badly to try and get everyone to come together now. Americans are drinking less beer than they were in past years and that definitely has something to do with shifting tastes and the availability of legal marijuana in some regions. These beer behemoths have so much money, however, the real question is why aren’t they buying up wine, liquor and weed ventures? Seems like that would be the move for these companies with deep pockets. Until Big Beer outlines exactly the ways in which they will help craft beer withstand this “outside threat,” it’s a non-starter. Pleas of unity after decades of divisive, monopolistic, and in many cases, underhanded business tactics, are falling on deaf ears.

 

thorn brewing green flash

Green Flash and Alpine Sold to Private Equity Firm

Green Flash Brewing has had a rough year. First, it was announced that they were shutting down and liquidating their Virginia Beach brewery, along with pulling out of distribution in 32 states and laying off more than 40 employees. Then, last week, they shut down their Cellar 3 tasting room and barrel aging program. This week, it was announced that Green Flash has been sold to a private equity firm after Comerica Bank, their largest shareholder, foreclosed on its loans because of high outstanding debt and poor health of the business, selling its assets in a foreclosure sale.

While there are differing opinions on why Green Flash has fallen on hard times, the U-T reported that a former brewer said much of the issues have to do with “expanding to the East Coast before its West Coast brewery had reached peak production; moving from six-packs to costlier four-packs; and tinkering with the recipe of its flagship ale, West Coast IPA.”

The West Coaster reached out to Mike Hinkley, the founder of Green Flash and this is what he said:

“Green Flash continues on and so does Alpine.  The beer is being brewed, packaged and delivered to retailers today.  The tasting rooms are open for business.  It is true that the companies have new ownership and that the company has refocused on being local and regional, versus national.  And it is also true that the investments of its previous owners, including myself, are now gone.  I am very, very sorry about that.

“I am trying to focus on the positives.  Green Flash and Alpine, and all of the folks that brew the beer, prepare the food, drive the forklifts, wait the tables, tend the bars, and work in sales, marketing and accounting all have jobs today.  Good paying jobs with real healthcare coverage.  That was not a sure thing, not too long ago.  I worked very hard to get this transaction accomplished with them in mind.

“I apologize to Pat and Val McIlhenney because this is not how they or I would ever have wished things would turn out.  I am glad they took the most of their money out of the company by now.  I wish they would have gotten it all out.  I wish things turned out exactly as they hoped when they sold Alpine Beer Company four years ago.

“I also apologize to the rest of the GFBC, Inc. shareholders who lost their investments.  I was the largest cash investor, never sold a share and continually reinvested.  I suppose it is appropriate that I lost all of my investment and I will come to grips with that.  But it will be much harder for me to get over other people losing their investments.

“I am very optimistic about the future of Green Flash and Alpine who emerge from very challenging times with a stable financial position and streamlined operations.  The breweries will continue to make amazing beer and enjoy them with their fans.”

What About Alpine?

One major question that was flying around the San Diego craft beer community was, “What’s going to happen to Alpine?” Alpine Beer Co. joined forces/was acquired by Green Flash in 2014 in what was predicted by both parties to become a long and happy marriage. Green Flash was excited about brewing Alpine’s beers (and having such a prolific brewery name in their stable) and Alpine was excited that there were going to finally be able to start to meet the demand that they had created by brewing awesome beers for years on their tiny brew-system. That marriage came to an unhappy end when Pat Mcllhenney, the founder of Alpine, posted this on Facebook:

thorn brewing

Pat was also quoted in a Union-Tribune article saying, “I don’t have a lot of faith in the management,” he said, “especially if they keep Mike on management. He has no business being in this business. His business prowess is abysmal.” Consider this beer-couple divorced.

Jacob Nikos, from YEW podcast, sat down with Pat recently and discussed all of this. It’s a great listen and really gives a solid perspective on the San Diego beer as well as the Green Flash/Alpine relationship.

The San Diego craft beer community is rallying behind the employees of both Green Flash and Alpine. After all, the Green Flash is an integral part of the West Coast IPA’s rise in popularity over the last 15 years. Alpine is loved even more, with a stellar reputation for their beers and their influence over the San Diego craft beer scene.

Who Are the New Owners?

The private equity firm that bought them does have one interesting connection. Joshua Yelsey, the new manager of the equity firm hails from Anheuser-Busch. There, he was a manager in AB’s mergers and acquisitions department. Additionally, he was head of finance for Goose Island and Blue Point during both acquisitions. The question is, how close are his ties to his old company? Will he just bring experience to his new role or will he bring contacts for future acquisitions of a certain San Diego beer darling with an impressive beer portfolio? That would truly be a sad day for independent SD beer.

People in the SD craft beer community are pretty salty over the whole situation. While this acquisition is preferable to both breweries shutting down and leaving hundreds of people out of job, the issue is about the close ties that people have to their friends and colleagues who had invested their time and money into Alpine and Green Flash. Who, because of the foreclosure, have lost all the money they had in the companies, including the founders of Alpine.

Down But Not Out

The biggest takeaway should be that these breweries might be facing some big changes but they are still open, brewing beer and working hard to create a tasty beverage for consumers. When someone posted on an SD craft beer message board that they were heading to Alpine this week for a “last hurrah,” one of the brewers posted this:

We are pulling for both Alpine and Green Flash. It certainly is a hard pill to swallow that so many San Diegans who invested in both companies have now lost their investments, but the employees from both breweries are working hard to continue their path in San Diego craft beer and we fully support them in this next chapter of their brew-story.