On July 4, 1776, a group of disenfranchised colonists gathered in Philadelphia to sign their names on a document asserting their independence. Nearly two and a half centuries later, a host of independent craft brewers from around the U.S. and the rest of the world came to Philadelphia to continue the fight for America’s craft beer makers at the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference.
The annual industry conference is organized by the Brewers Association, a non-profit trade organization dedicated to promoting and protecting American craft brewers, their beers, and the community of brewing enthusiasts. Over the course of four days, attendees heard a keynote address from Oakland Athletics Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane (known for his groundbreaking strategy that has allowed him to compete with the wealthiest teams in baseball), were updated on the state of the industry, browsed the floor of a massive trade show, and participated in seminars led by industry professionals.
The Growler was in attendance and spoke with brewers and industry experts to try to get a clear picture of the state of American craft beer today. Here are our 10 key takeaways from CBC 2016:
Craft beer will live or die by quality
The dominant refrain of the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference was attention to quality. Craft beer is growing quickly, and the overall consideration given to quality assurance in many of today’s new craft breweries is not keeping pace. The problem of slipping standards in craft beer was a predominant theme of the 2016 conference.
How can the industry improve on this most crucial component of beer production? According to Dick Cantwell, Quality Ambassador at the Brewers Association, craft breweries will continue to live and die by peer-to-peer cooperation and communication. Cantwell asks that we think about it this way: “The industry of craft beer is only as good as the worst beer being made.” It seems that the “rising tide floats all boats” theory is in still in play in craft beer. Yes, it is a competitive industry these days, but collaboration and communication between brewers is what has always made craft beer unique, and it is the most effective way to continue to raising the overall bar.
Cantwell, in a presentation titled “The Future of Craft Depends on Quality,” encouraged the craft brewers in attendance to make investments into quality control and assurance–pointing out that dumping a batch of undrinkable beer can often times be more costly to a brewery than many of the front end investments for equipment and personnel to test your beer for potential flaws and infection.
Stronger united than divided
A prominent topic at the CBC this year was the potential merger between two of the world’s brewing behemoths. Talk of the AB-InBev/SAB Miller deal that was announced this past November was common, and it seems clear that the craft beer industry sees the merger as a potential threat to their short term business potential and overall well-being. What can be done to limit potential mega-merger peril? The Brewers Association emphasized the importance of unity within the community of craft beer. In-fighting and disputes between small, independent breweries is counterproductive, says Cantwell. “Big beer would be delighted to have us spending our time and energy suing one another.”