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It’s not often that you get more than a hundred beer insiders from across the Southeast at the same place to share rare beers, talk shop and enjoy an evening under the stars. But that’s exactly what happens every year before the Beericana Festival, and we had a chance to meet this close-knit group to learn more about the industry.
This year the number of breweries in the United States surpassed pre-prohibition numbers, the first time in almost a century. One question kept coming up: Can we sustain the number of new breweries opening every year? The answer from most was a resounding, “Yes,” though many acknowledge that the way breweries are doing business will have to change.
“It’s going to be like the farm-to-table movement,” says Brandon Booker, one of the managers of Front Street Brewery. “Breweries will need to be sustainable at a local level.”
“The focus is on hyper local,” adds Bruce Corregan, head brewer at Nickelpoint Brewing Company. He believes that the taproom experience will be a big part of any brewery’s success, with a focus on growing within the state as opposed to the whole Southeast. While most agree that it’s getting harder for craft breweries to grow as rapidly as they were growing a decade ago, one issue gets everyone talking—the way the big distributors are buying out smaller craft brewing companies.
For many, the choice becomes stay local or “partner” with a bigger company. Devils Backbone Brewing Company out of Virginia was recently acquired by Anheuser-Busch and received some backlash on social media but not as much as the company expected. “You can’t stay viable without more capital,” says Elizabeth Lipscomb, Brand Manager, who says gone are the days when breweries could grow independently, like Stone Brewery or New Belgium.
New Belgium, the fourth largest craft brewery in terms of volume, continues to be employee owned; however, Southeastern Regional Director Ryan Beach recognizes it’s hard for smaller breweries to follow in their footsteps. Instead he points out Bombshell Beer Company in Holly Springs as a great model to follow, focusing attention on the neighborhood.
Of course, the beer community didn’t just talk about business, the discussion also focused on what will be the next big trend in beer and, here, opinion was divided. “My job is to look into the future,” says Beach. His guess: “It’s going to be the year of the yellow craft beer—pilsners and ales.” Many agreed that beers with lower alcohol levels will be big along, with a return to the basic styles. The “lighter” beers are much more approachable to a new craft beer drinker, a market that is growing every year.
“Session beers and lagers, easy drinking beers that have complexity but you don’t need a fork and knife to drink them,” says Ryan Kolarav of Neuse River Brewing. And the other big trend? More sours. Predicts Harrison Parker, the assistant brewer at Front Street: “It’s going to be ‘How sour can you make it?’”
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