The Session 102: Beer Landscape

Our topic this month is, “The Landscape of Beer“. How do you see that landscape now? What about in 5, 10, or even 20 years? A current goal in the American Craft Beer Industry is 20% market share by the year 2020. How can we get there? Can we get there?

When I think about the current beer landscape, I want to focus more locally and start with a look back. August 13th is an important day, at least for the North Carolina beer. It was on that day 10 years ago that North Carolina entered the modern beer world, with the maximum ABV changed from 6% to a far more reasonable 15%. I wasn’t in North Carolina then, but I arrived soon after and saw the impact the change made on the industry.

People that got excited by this Popping the Cap had gathered business plans and investors and started opening brewery after brewery in the months after our (me and now wife) arrival. At first I wasn’t sure that the craft scene would be here would be as vibrant as my hometown, sure there was a brewery in my town and a few others around the Triangle (population just over 2 million). But nothing like the town of 60,000 that had 4 breweries and numerous bottle shops and beer bars I came from.

Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

What I came to discover was a state on the cusp of becoming a craft beer destination. The number of brewers exploded from a handful to over 30 within an hour of me. The state will have 150 by the end of the year. One good bottle shop has turned into so many I can’t count them all. Numerous coworkers from homebrew shop I worked have become a generation of brewers for these fledgling breweries, myself included. I have made so many friends through this community and am thankful for it.

So I’d like to think that the future of this beer landscape is just as promising a future as the last 10 years. Companies like Sierra Nevada, Oskar Blues, and New Belgium seem to think we are heading in the right direction and have joined us. I teach a class locally to help keep the industry staffed, but it’s not just Wake Tech, across the state from Asheville to Rocky Mount educators are helping the cause. National recognized beer bars can be found from Raleigh to Asheville. While we have work to do in some areas like taxes, the legislature has noticed the positive impact we bring to the state and are slowly making reforms like the growler law update.

When it comes to the future of North Carolina beer I believe the future is bright and best is yet to come.

The Session #96 Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?

I haven’t done one of these in a while, but I like the topic this month so why not?

The February 2015 Session topic is “Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?

Much of the answer depends on where the festival is and how it is held. For instance events now held in North Carolina, because we have a started to develop a more mature market for beer are often a Geek Gathering. Take for instance Raleigh Rare and Vintage Beer Tasting that was recently held. At $70 a ticket you won’t likely attract someone who has never had a ‘craft’ beer to the event but beer geeks buy all the tickets in a matter of hours. The same goes for events like SAVOR, Fobab, or Beer Advocate’s Extreme Beer Festival. So we have reached a point where many are Geek Gatherings.

That said there is still a market for Beer Dissemination and much of that is based on the structure of the event in question. The last few years locally Brewgaloo has been held downtown Raleigh. This event attracts thousands of people, but for all those folks you can get to beers in general, fairly easily. There is a low barrier to entry, an id check then you buy as many or few tickets as you like, so if you want just to have a few tasters then go on about your day you can. The low level of commitment required opens the door to people who haven’t had ‘craft’ beer before but want to see what it is all about.

This becomes a far more important component as we get to less developed markets as All About Beer’s World Beer Festival have been doing in South Carolina or in the past in Florida. Last year I was in Mexico to help a brewery and it reminded me of what the US market was like 30 years ago. One of the marketing components I recommended to the brewer there was to start an educational outreach program and launch a local beer festival as a component of that program.

Festivals whether geek gathering or beer dissemination need to incorporate education as a key component to their design. This helps newer customers better understand and enjoy their beer. It takes away some of the mystery or fear that people seem to have when faced with the array of choices festival often offer. Festivals are one of the brewers best outreach methods when properly run that help spread the word, okay the flavor, no the awareness of ‘craft’ beer.

PS – I used the term ‘craft’ refer to the more flavorful beers, but it’s a term I tend like All About Beer and other places tend to be stepping away from using, but I needed a modifier on the word beer so I went with what we have got.

Mad Skills Needed

I have worked for a couple of breweries before starting this one. I have seen tens if not hundreds open their doors. The process is long, it never goes as fast as you want, it is the nature of the beast.

Brewing is by it’s nature requires a many skill sets, problem solver, electrician, tour guide, and of course janitor, mostly in fact janitor.

So neither of the areas were any surprise as we are starting. The element that perhaps strikes me unsuspecting was how often I’d be asked about an opinion on something that I had no experience in, nor any preference. For example last week I was evaluating a used forklift, I have worked with them regularly enough in the past but I am far from an expert. So I called up a repair company and had one of their guys join me. It was old so it needed some repairs, not surprising really. Along the way we also discovered it wasn’t the model advertised so then I was left working numbers to see if it fit our needs. Remember how many kids complain in ask when we would need algebra in school, in the brewers world I would say the answer is regularly. 20 years later I wished I’d taken that calculus class as well some days too.

Another week it’s support struts and how many we need on the bar. Media expert, plumbing guru, and the titles keep rolling on. At times it’s fun and other times you sit saying to yourself “I’d just like to start making beer, please.”

Keep your head down, do your homework, admit your ignorance, and be on time. Every day a little more progress and yeah, when do I open?

Soon.

School is Back

Today starts the fourth section of the Wake Tech Craft Brewing class basics class. It has been fun to teach, but more importantly it is helping people prepare for careers related to the brewing industry. The other benefit is local brewers will have better trained new staff walking in the door.

The students come from a wide range from young adults trying to get their career going to retired folks looking for a hobby. Some homebrewers take it, but over half attendees have no experience with brewing before walking in the door.

The class is review of the brewing process and issues in a brewery. I work to set expectations from the first day, not this is not a class on making wort, it’s about general operations. The class does make one beer on a pilot system, but this is done to make sure they understand the entire brewing process start to finish in a hands-on approach. And yes, the beer is enjoyed for the class graduation. The last big point I try to make clear is brewing is work, hard work. Long days standing getting wet in hot or cold conditions are the norm, drinking beer is often the exception not the rule.

Teaching the class requires me focus on the basic elements of the brewing. As the adage goes you only really know a skill when you teach it to others. Standing up in front of 20 students helps me practice on public speaking which is under appreciated but often needed skill when opening a brewery. All those funny odd skills from cleaning to electrical repair to public speaking that go into brewing that people never stop to think of, but perhaps because it does require so an odd mixture of skills that makes the life so appealing.