Amidst a brewing industry that is best known for industrialization, economies of scale and consolidation, a craft brewery is just about as inefficient as a typewriter. The process of brewing small, non-standardized and most times, offensive tasting beer is an inefficient one and common logic would suspect unprofitable too. However, Sam Caligone, Founder of Dogfish Head Brewing Company, highlights the benefit and potential of the size of craft brewing:
Basically there are two kinds of corporate inefficiencies: those that hurt your bottom line, and those that help it. A straightforward production inefficiency, like a broken bottling line that shoots out unlabeled bottles, is obviously hurtful. But an inefficiency like incorporating more costly, natural ingredients into a product than your competitor does in a similar product can have a positive effect on the bottom line if this innovation allows you to charge significantly more for your offering than your competitors can charge for their lower-quality, but more affordable, product.
Sam acknowledges that some inefficiencies are actually quite productive and the things that big breweries, such as Anhueser-Busch or Coors, have turned their backs on are what provide a foundation for craft breweries to flourish. While McDonalds’ is fantastically efficient at producing hamburgers and fries, I’ll choose the little burger joint around the corner from my house nine times out of ten because I want my burger to be juicy, topped with rich tomatoes and asked the question, “How would you like your burger?” when I order. When’s the last time McDonald’s cared to ask how you liked your burger cooked?
The point being that I demand some form of intimacy and care with my food and drinks. Sometimes the inefficiencies of slow cooking, small portions and human contact produce the best results. Craft breweries own this realm by injecting intimacy into the brewing and beer-drinking process – humanizing the experience in ways big breweries can’t.
Craft Breweries’ Values
Craft breweries were originally born from a hatred for low-quality, mechanized, generic beer. Ultimately, craft breweries were born from a belief that beer could be done better and that if you want good beer, you just have to do it yourself.
Craft breweries have mastered the blending of high-grade ingredients and old-school brewing methodologies in smaller-sized batches. In result, craft breweries have flourished selling what most people have always wanted: good beer. Craft brewing is a movement to bring beer back to what it was in the 1800’s when there were hundreds of small breweries providing crafted beer for local patrons. Unfortunately, since, the industry has gone through rapid consolidation and a trio of macro-breweries have dominated the drinking public commodifying beer in the same way fast-food has commidified hamburgers.
In contrast to large breweries, craft is not about production or efficiency, but about providing something expressive, unique, and engaging. The artist and businessperson have a similar primary goal to create something unique and meaninful that leaves a lasting impression on the world.
The craft business is a unique, artistic process that attempts to engage the consumer’s mind and senses in nontraditional yet productive ways. It is important to keep in mind that craft beer is more than just a business, it is an art. Expensive and rare ingredients are hand-crafted to form a unique experience for the customer, who is purchasing art in the form of beer.
Craft Breweries by the Numbers
The Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as small, independent, and traditional. Annual production of a craft brewer is less than 2 million barrels, although most are less than 15,000 barrels. Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer. Most specialty breweries are privately owned by the founder and brew-master. The typical flagship of a specialty brewery is its traditional all malt consistency; at least 50 percent of its volume is either all malt beers or in beers that use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor. Instead of replacing barley malt with corn or rice, the adjuncts are ingredients such as fruit, spices, or wood chips.
Ultimately, the hallmark of a craft brewery is intimacy, innovation and passion. These small-sized breweries bring a humanizing touch to the brewing process – helping restore quality, individualism and broad ranging flavor in the industry. While macrobreweries provide the every-man’s beer, craft breweries provide ‘you’ beer. A craft brewer is today’s version of a blacksmith – personalizing a variety of flavors and styles. While some might consider craft breweries to be inefficient, the quality of beer and success in the U.S. cannot be ignored.