A few weeks back, while looking forward to the Final Four of Beer Madness, I bemoaned the sale of Goose Island to Anheuser-Bush (it seems the deal didn't sit too well with the guys at GI either). Word was that the sale was in response to the difficulties many craft breweries share of keeping up with demand, and that the Hall family was tired of trying to keep up. In the comments, brewing professional Rico talked about the sale of GI in terms of the future of craft beer, going as far as to say that the craft industry is at a "crossroads." With demand often greatly outpacing production capability, many breweries have to find creative revenue streams to enable an expansion of production, thus putting tremendous strain on the balance sheets until the predicted revenue starts pumping in. It's an uncomfortable position that many small breweries across the nation find themselves in..
With that in mind, I couldn't help but notice over the past few weeks as two Colorado craft giants pulled back their distribution. First Great Divide, and then Avery announced territorial pull-out plans. Now, I don't expect Avery or GD to sell-out to Coors anytime soon, and no one in Colorado will have any trouble finding a Titan IPA or a White Rascal if they want one, but it is with a mounting sense of dread that I see some of my favorite breweries breaking distribution partnerships and retreating back across the Great Plains. I couldn't help but notice, during my tour two weeks ago, how haphazardly Avery was strewn across an office park. At the time I found it quaint and "Boulder-ish," but now, as I think back on it, it all seems very tenuous.
To underscore the point, this is not a case of no one wanting their beers. The truth is exactly the opposite, too many people want their beers, and they just don't have enough to go around. The only way forward for the breweries I love is to expand; allowing more room for more mash tuns, fermentors, and larger bottling lines. And the only way they can handle this is with a large influx of cash, which more than likely means pricey, and inherently risky loans. If some breweries find that they are risk-averse, they might end up going the way of GI. Rico's right, craft brewing is at a crossroads, and a perilous one at that.