“I think craft beer becoming more localized and fewer breweries trying to be everything to everyone is a good thing.” – Jeffrey Stuffings // Jester King Brewery
Through my freelance work with Brewbot, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing some incredible craft brewers in the States. At the end of the interviews, I asked each brewer what they think is coming next for the craft beer industry and their answers inspired this series of “New Year, New Beer” posts.
For Jeffrey Stuffings, founder of Jester King Brewery in Austin, Texas, he sees craft beer becoming “more localized” and “fewer breweries trying to be everything to everyone.”
In this case, localized doesn’t just mean smaller, regionally-focused distribution. Stuffings means beer with a sense of place, like those produced by his brewery, Jester King, that he describes as “creations that wouldn’t exist but for their location and the time of year they’re made.” Jester King achieves this by using a mixed culture of brewer’s yeast combined with the naturally occurring yeast and bacteria from the land the brewery is built on in the Texas Hill Country. They also source locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices for their beers.
Another place-based brewer, Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company describes their beers as “Arizona in a glass.” By using ingredients like locally sourced Granny Smith and Pink Lady apples in their Biere de Wassail or Arizona-grown Mourvedre grapes in their Barely Wine Barleywine, they’ve infused these brews with local flavors that capture both place and time. As any agricultural product has natural variation from harvest to harvest, so too will these beers, meaning the same beers simply can’t be brewed again.
Craft beer is becoming more and more locally-focused, not only in terms of sourcing, but in terms of distribution, and, often, out of necessity. To reach a larger consumer base, most breweries use a distributor to broaden their market. But, these distributors are costly and often represent dozens, if not hundreds of other brands, some with much more money, earning them more of the distributor’s focus and attention. A hot new brand may be picked up and promoted one month, then pushed aside the next.
To best control how, when, and where your beers are reaching your consumers, it’s best to distribute them yourself. This takes a lot of time and effort and only a small amount of local land can be covered, but it helps strengthen a brewery’s relationship with their local community. Plus, with the right amount of buzz, breweries can become destination brands that beer geeks will travel for. Just ask Evan Klein of Barrier Brewing Company in Long Island, New York.
When it comes to putting together your portfolio of styles, a less-is-more approach is increasingly appreciated. The Beer Judge Certification Program has style guidelines for well over 100 different beer styles – does every brewery really need to brew a pale ale or IPA? Of course, breweries need to keep their consumer’s tastes in mind, but brewing to their own tastes and doing it really well can help create demand for less common styles, too.
Instead of doing “everything well but nothing exceptionally”, Stuffing seeks out breweries that have a defined niche within which they can “explore and master.” In Denver, Colorado, for example, he cited a few examples of breweries leading this trend – Prost specializes in German style beers, Crooked Stave in wild, sour, and barrel-fermented beers, and Hogshead for English ales.
In sum, Stuffings thinks we’ll see more breweries finding their niche – in their local markets and in the broader world of beer styles.
Do you agree? If not, what do you see coming next this year in beer? Leave me a note in the comments.
Quote source: Interview with Jeffrey Stuffings for Brewbot (December 26, 2015)