American Craft Beer Week is upon us again, and for many it’s a time to hoist a few at a local event, hit some brewpubs, or just give a little extra thought to the choice of six-pack. So without further ado, I’m going to crack an American Craft Beer and write a little bit about the event and the state of the craft beer industry in America today.
The event, which was recognized by Congress in 2006, was initiated by the Brewer’s Association, the industry body that represents almost every brewer in the United States. The Association created American Craft Beer Week as a chance to highlight the contribution that craft brewers make to American culture and history. I can vouch for this – I live in a relatively beerless place. South Florida has some 5.5 million people and just 5 craft brewers (all brewpubs who cannot distribute off-premises) and two craft contract beer companies. That is not a good brewery per capita statistic. When you consider the more beery places, you realize the difference craft beer makes. There is a greater sense of community, not only in supporting local product but in the places people gather to drink local product. Diego Escobar, the owner of local Miami Beach beer bar Abraxas, told me he has a lot of people come in asking about Florida craft beer, only to be told that such things are hard to come by down here. In a time when everything comes from someplace else, people like seeing quality brewing from their own neighborhoods. And when you think about the thousands of breweries that existed in the US before Prohibition, there is nothing more traditional or more American than drinking locally-brewed beer.
The impetus for American Craft Beer Week was to generate national media exposure. One thing that is sometimes forgotten in our beer geek community is that most people still drink macrobrew. The market share for craft beer nationwide was just 4% by volume and 6.3% by dollars. I spoke to Julia Herz, Director of the Craft Beer Program at the BA, about the need for American Craft Beer Week. “We wanted to specifically highlight the contributions of craft brewers in America. They have unique challenges so we need to provide support for craft brewers,” she told me. “There are access to market issues, legislative challenges.” The promotion is not political, however, but a means to further the market education goals of the BA. “We have had tremendous success with our beer at the table promotions. Restaurants and consumers are really starting to appreciate way that beer pairs with food.”
On the strength of promotions such as this, craft beer continues to grow, even when other segments of the beer market are in decline. Last year, domestic macrobrew grew at 0.6%, echoing the multi-decade stagnation in that segment. Imports were down 3.4%, which can be attributed to trading down in the face of economic downturn. The number of craft breweries and brewpubs increased as well. But even with this success, there are challenges. Governments, facing declining tax revenues, are turning to craft beer for more revenues. Many of these same governments do not attack wine the same way. There are limits on alcohol, limits on brewpub off-sales and limits on offering samples. Neo-Prohibitionists are working to restrict the beer business and pushing for blood alcohol limit laws that harm brewpub and restaurant owners with no discernible benefit to public safety. Then there is the three-tiered distribution system, the single biggest reason why craft beer remains relatively unavailable in many parts of the country.
So what we need during American Craft Beer Week is not just the purchase of a six-pack or a visit to a local brewpub, but a commitment to helping further the cause. You know the beer and brewers are worth your support. Sign the <A hrefhttp://www.beertown.org/events/acbw/pdf/Declaration.pdf>Declaration of Beer Independence[/a], put your name on the petitions for craft beer causes like Alabama’s Free the Hops or against tax increases on craft beer, and whatever you do, enjoy the product. Forget the hype. Don’t get sucked into a vortex of negativity. Craft beer is happy, happy stuff. Drink, enjoy, and support.
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When you consider the more beery places, you realize the difference craft beer makes. There is a greater sense of community, not only in supporting local product but in the places people gather to drink local product.