“If you are a startup here and quality is not on the top of your list, get out.”
Of all of what was said in private conversations and in public forums, both on- and off-the-record at last month’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in San Diego, it was that one 18-word, Twitter-friendly sentence that seemed to resonate the most. The statement came from Brewers Association (BA) director Paul Gatza during his general session address and struck such a chord that it took several minutes to tweet it because whatever mobile signals existed were eaten up by hundreds of other smartphone-wielding attendees trying to post it simultaneously.
It was particularly pertinent at a time when there is something close to 1,000 breweries in planning, by the BA’s reckoning. And, as I write this, BA just announced that the number of operating craft breweries in the United States has hit the magic 2,000 mark. The number hasn’t been that high since the turn of the 20th century and this time we don’t appear to have an imminent Prohibition looming.
So it was safe to assume there were quite a few startups in the audience of a few thousand (a record-shattering 4,000-plus attended the four-day event).
It seems like a no-brainer that quality should be on the top of everyone’s list. But when so many new players are getting into a red-hot segment, the question in the back of my mind is, how committed are all of those newcomers and soon-to-be-newcomers? Are they serious about handing their lives over to what’s essentially a 24/7 job or do they just like beer and think it might be cool to run a brewery?
I would like to think that most fully understand what they’re getting themselves into and are going to be religiously devoted to ensuring the best product quality. And the mere bandwagoners who aren’t, well, Darwinian dynamics hopefully will play out.
It’s such an exciting time with so many breweries on the scene and so many in the pipeline. Are all going to produce top-quality products? The laws of probability say no. Will every one of them succeed? Again, no. Is there a correlation between quality and success? Of course there is. That’s not to say it’s a foregone conclusion that all quality producers will succeed, but it’s a heck of a good first step. There are plenty of educational tools out there that new brewers should be taking advantage of to keep them on the right side of quality, be they from the Siebel Institute, the Cicerone certification program, the curricula at UC Davis or the Brewers Association itself, just to name a few.
Sitting in that CBC general session audience could have been the proprietors of the next Sierra Nevada or New Belgium. And those, among the other startups in the audience, are the ones who know that all begins and ends with the quality of what’s in the bottle, keg or can. No one wants another mid-’90s-style shakeout.
And by the way, the answer is no. No one got up and left.
It’s a start.