Monthly Archives: March 2014

Throwback Thursday – Roots of Craft Beer

Throwback Thursdays has been a popular meme on facebook of late and while I enjoyed it, I am not interested in posting photos of my past. Instead I decided to post old content from my old blog sites that are not online to get that content back into searchable space. I’ll post will be the original post date, the post with all the links, and then any thoughts I have reflecting on the post.

Original post date: Tuesday May 31, 2011

Denver Bartender asks “What are the roots of the American craft beer industry?”

There are four elements that contributed to the modern craft beer industry. European beer, mono-culture in US beer, slow food & other quality food movements, and lastly homebrewing; it was the interaction of all of these elements that drove the industry.

European Beer – American exchange students, tourists and soldiers noticed that Europe offered more unique offerings in beer long before the American craft beer revolution. Longing for those beers after returning home was a factor in interest in beers beyond what American companies were offering.

Mono-culture in US Beer – The story of consolidation in the American brewing industry is well known. The industrial Model T, one size fits all beer approach, works when you want a car, er no wait it doesn’t. In any industry that promotes a mono-culture we see people fighting back wanting diversity of options.

Slow Food and other quality food Movements – While the official launch of the ‘Slow Food’ movements was in the later 1980s, the quality food movement has prompted to people pay attention to what they drink, not just what they eat. People want to know the story behind their favorite food and drinks, who makes them and what makes it unique. These are stories that craft beer is perfectly suited to tell.

Homebrewing – Listed last it definitely has a strong factor, probably one of the larger factors on this list, when people didn’t have access to European beers they brewed their own. I am a case in point with wanting Hefeweizen. The mono-culture of US beer didn’t provide what people wanted so they brewed their own. Legalization of homebrewing and improved access to quality ingredients fired people’s imagination about making brewing a living.

All of these factors influenced the development of craft beer, but without all of them I don’t think the industry would be as successful as it is today.

 Postscript – I think all the points are still the valid. Often we talk about the founders of craft beer, people like Fritz Maytag, Jack McAuliffe, and others that did the ground work and established the idea they do deserve the credit. But what if these people hadn’t been born? Would there still be a craft beer movement?

The answer is Yes. It may not be the same as it is today, there might be other companies in the top 20, but the direction we are headed would look very much the same. The more I think of it, the more the reaction to the mono-culture in beer would have developed in other places at the same time, like the idea of writing developing in multiple places at the same time. The market was ready for a reaction in the 1970s and 80s and if it hadn’t been in California it might had been Vermont or New Mexico or some other state.

 

 

Location

People always ask “how’s it going?” but they really want to know is when I’ll open. I know because I have had the conversation enough times from the other side of the table. Our initial location dropped out so I have been working with a real estate agent to find another property. You can put a brewery just about anywhere, if you get the right permits and deal with the hassles. Finding a location that will make a good brewery location though takes a little more thought.

 

Years ago it started for me I’d look at buildings and think could you put a brewery in there? The first building I did that in my head is now a social services building in Flagstaff. It sat unused for years, I am not sure now that the building had enough vertical height that it would have made a good brewery, but it could have been done.

 

Because of the way the business plan has developed the easiest property would be an industrial lot with a good amount of vertical space. The building having a dock door is border line a minimum requirement, because while it is not a necessity, it does make life a lot easier. In conversations with my equipment supplier they say it’s amazing how many people opening a brewery don’t have a dock door. Sufficient electricity into the building is a requirement because without that there will be costly upgrades required. Lastly are the location and aesthetic considerations.

 

While we will be a brewery with a restaurant, short term at opening it will be just a brewery and with the restaurant coming later. Ideally we will want to sell as much beer as possible on site. That means the location must have the right demographics as a customer base. Industrial close to residential or with good commuter numbers nearby has been the model of a number of successful breweries. I think we are dialing in on some locations with that potential.

 

Aesthetic I list last and while it definitely can be a component of success, it doesn’t require it. Fullsteam has a very community center feel and that vibe comes through in it’s design. I often liken it to a church built around beer with the brewery the grand cathedral showing through the glass. Counter that down the road in Raleigh with Big Boss which has a very industrial-blue collar feel because that was exactly what it was set up as, it calls more to the beginning of the craft beer movement and reflects the more roots. Is one better than the other, surely not Big Boss has been known to attract hundreds for it’s monthly tours and thousands for it’s big party events. Go to Fullsteam any given Saturday, you will see birthday parties, families and friends gathering for a quick pint so both serve their purpose.

Finding a building that can reflect Compass Rose aesthetic is part of my goal at the moment. I’d like to have enough space that we can have that community space feel, but allow for the industrial elements the brewery needs. It’s a delicate tightrope but I think we are getting to some promising sites.