Living in Rhode Island, with one of the nation’s worst brewing scenes, the answer is absolutely not, but even when I am in
paradise Oregon, the answer is still no. Yet some are concerned.
Located off Rhode Island’s coast, the Atlantic Ocean isle is filled with bluffs, beaches, and rolling hills, such as the one atop which the Atlantic Inn is perched. Here, on the lush lawn in front of the 1879 hotel, you can sit in white Adirondack chairs and watch the rippled waters. Or, on a recent summer morning, you could plop beside Dogfish Head president Sam Calagione and discuss craft beer’s coming bottleneck.
“We’re heading into an incredibly competitive era of craft brewing,” he says. “There’s a bloodbath coming.”
This may seem alarmist. After all, the Brewers Association just announced that 3,000-plus craft breweries now operate in America. Last year’s craft sales climbed 17.2 percent, overseas exports have escalated, and breweries such as Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, and Oskar Blues recently constructed second breweries to spread their bitter ales farther, wider, and fresher. Heck, Stone is building a brewery in Berlin. Berlin!
I’m onboard with America abandoning middle-of-the-road beer and exploring flavorful new directions. The highway, however, is getting mighty crowded. Hundreds of different beers debut weekly, creating a scrum of session IPAs, spiced witbiers, and barrel-aged stouts scuffling for shelf space. For consumers, the situation is doubly confusing. How can you pick a pint on a 100-brew tap list? Moreover, beer shops are chockablock with pale this and imperial that, each one boasting a different hop pun. When buying beer, I can’t count how many times I’ve assisted overwhelmed shoppers, playing the benevolent Sherpa in the wilds of modern brewing.
I was unaware that picking a beer off a taplist of 100 was a problem. This mostly sounds like a bunch of established brewers worried that newcomers are going to break into their market. Of course, there are some legitimate points. There’s a lot of gimmicks around right now. And if you are a newby to the world of craft beer, there’s no question that it can be totally overwhelming. But that situation can be solved pretty quickly with a relatively small amount of experimentation. Or at the very least you can find something you like and stick with. The stupid label wars, as many breweries begin to rely on cheap marketing tactics over quality, is annoying, but hardly worse than some wineries. And I don’t recall people complaining about too many wines on the market even though when I go to Bottles in Providence there are hundreds of different wines in the store.
I suppose there is a cap on the craft beer market. What I hope happens is that it is a race to the top, with lower quality brewers going out of existence. What probably happens is that conglomerates start buying up some of the brands. But even that doesn’t begin to touch the real small-time brewers opening tap rooms and small bars with relatively limited ambition. That is a great thing and just because Dogfish Head executives don’t like the competition doesn’t mean it is going away.