The Session #43: The New Kids on the Block

The Session is a chance for beer bloggers to write on a shared topic each month. This month Carla over at The Beer Babe is hosting, with the topic “New Kids on the Block.” From her site:
“With the astounding growth of the number of craft breweries this year, chances are there’s a new one in development, or has just started out in your area… How does their beer compare to the craft beer scene in your area? Are they doing anything in a new/exciting way? What advice, as a beer consumer, would you give to these new breweries?”

Some say that America is going through a “beer renaissance.” For the first time since the 1920’s, the number of breweries in the U.S. has exceeded pre-Prohibition numbers. Movement to de-centralize food and beverages is widespread. Emphasis on locally produced items has reached every market. Popular (or least the loudest) opinion is that macro-lagers are inferior to local, small batch craft beer. There isn’t a better time to be opening a brewery… right?

With the increased national awareness of craft beer comes an increased expectation of quality. While the appeal of locally produced brews certainly gets people excited, it’s the quality that keeps them coming back. Just because a brewery is local, doesn’t mean it is producing good beer. However if a brewery can combine the local attitude of a true craft brewer with excellent and exciting beers, they can rocket to “beer-stardom.” If they can’t, they’re relegated to the heap with all the other pretenders.

Recently a private company took over the newly closed Hops Brewery near me, and re-opened as Carson’s Brewhouse, keeping the original Hops brew system (and brewer). Locals were excited that we would finally have a local brewery that could produce some exciting new beers, not the corporate-mandated boring recipes that they had been pumping out for years. Unfortunately we were wrong. The beers were just as safe as they had always been, catering to the BudMillerCoors crowd and served sub-arctic in frosty mugs. Essentially Hops in sheep’s clothing. Rumor has it that a consultant is coming in to try and turn things around, but it’s a testament to the advanced palates of the public that making fizzy yellow beer is a sure way to go out of business.

On the other end of the spectrum would be Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project in Massachusetts. Even without a physical brewery to call their own (they brew on another brewery’s system, details in their own words here), they have exploded on the beer scene with their unique and downright tasty beers. They bottle only in 22oz bombers and have limited tap accounts. At the recent ACBF held in Boston, they were easily the most sought after brewery at the event…again. The year before, only a few months after producing their first beers, they were the toast of the town. They hold frequent events, release parties, and beer dinners throughout the Boston and New York areas, which creates a sense of community. Not only is this beer awesome, it’s local.

Upon tasting their beers and hearing their story at ACBF, I immediately went out the next day and bought everything they made. I bought the beers because they were good, but I also bought them because I wanted the brewery to succeed. Because they worked so hard to create that sense of involvement, of community, I will support them in everything they do.

Was I sucked into the hype? Did I drink the Kool-Aid? Why did I, cynical beer enthusiast (snob) that I am, suddenly decide to jump on the Pretty Things bandwagon? Because the beer is damn good. Take away everything else, the beer stands out on it’s own. No amount of hype, swag, promotion, prostitution, or cajoling can make a bad craft beer popular. That might work for that BudMillerCoors crowd, but craft beer drinkers know better. They already see past the marketing of those big guys, they look at quality.

So here's my advice to all those new and upcoming craft beer makers out there: brew good beer. It really is that simple. If you put out a good product, the community is going to get behind you and welcome you with open arms. But if the beer ain’t good, we ain’t gonna drink it.