Craft beer is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. The expansion of brands like BrewDog, Stone, Dogfish Head, and others have drawn accolades and criticism in almost equal measure. Some say that craft brewers are selling out by taking corporate money and entering foreign markets. There’s a case to made there. Others (often those receiving those multi-million dollar investments) say that the bigger they are the more they can support innovation and local beer communities. Again, not completely without merits.
All we know right now is that craft beer is an unstoppable force in the beer industry and these issues are going to remain in contention as small, local, and home brewers transform into multi-national conglomerates faster than we can keep track of them. So where do you fall on the commoditization of craft beer? Is it okay for them to “sell out” or do you like to keep it local?
I’m going to have an argument with myself to try to answer a perhaps unanswerable conundrum. You can @ me in the comments with your opinion.
THE CASE AGAINST SELLING OUT
This boils down to the very heart and soul of what craft beer is. For this exercise let’s say you’re in Toronto on vacation. You head into a bar and peruse their beer menu. There are the usual big-business beers like Molson and Labatt’s alongside Beck’s and so forth. Then there are the craft beers like Goose Island, Brooklyn Lager, and Stone. And finally, there are the locals — Bellwoods, Junction, Halo, and so on.
You know you like to drink Goose, Brooklyn, and Stone. But, you know, you’re not in Chicago, New York, or southern California. You’re in Ontario. You know by ordering a local beer you’re supporting local beer. That directly translates to you supporting local jobs, agriculture, infrastructure, and character. Why go to Toronto and drink beer from somewhere else? Why send that money elsewhere?
The idea of big craft brewers like Stone or Brooklyn or BrewDog elbowing out locals is becoming more and more likely. They’re all arguably brewing good beers that deserve our attention. They’ve all created a hip, punk, and crafty aesthetic that translates well to other markets — Stone Brewing recently opened a massive brewery in Berlin to supply most of Europe and BrewDog has opened 50 brew bars around Europe and is coming for the US market.
The question has to be asked, “Why go all the way to Berlin to drink a beer from San Diego?” Likewise, is a BrewDog in a place like, say, Warsaw going to understand the depth of the local palates and styles of Poland as well as the Polish and make a wholly unique Polish beer experience even possible at their brewpub? In essence, craft beer is supposed to be the bulwark against huge corporate beer over-shadowing local, well-made beer. What happens when craft beer is both the overshadowing force and the overshadowed upstart.
There’s a certain ‘aesthetic’ that international craft beer taking over represents. As an avid beer drinker, writer, and advocate I’ve enjoyed beer all over the world in all forms — from brewery floors to bar conventions to hidden away backstreet hole-in-the-wall dives. And brewpubs tend to fall into two categories: 1) either it’s a wholly unique place or 2) it’s a place that hits all the hip marks and therefore blends into the rest of the movement seamlessly and forgettably. My experiences at BrewDog in Berlin merge with trips to the brewpub in London or Rome or Warsaw because, mostly, they’re strikingly similar establishments. Like chain restaurants.
Personally, if I’m sitting in a brewpub in Barcelona, I don’t want to feel like I just walked into a brewpub in Asheville or Portland, damn it. Yet, here we are listening to 80s rock and roll while sitting against a red brick wall while a dog prances around the tables, all sipping our IPAs.
Of course, the main markers of the movement aren’t exactly terrible: 1) an attractive woman, typically with tattoos, pulling beers. 2) “Local” foods that always somehow include pulled pork and burgers. 3) Double IPAs that no human can drink more than one of, 4) A bearded and ball-capped dude hanging out and “running” the place. It’s all good, it’s just… getting a little boring.