Anyone who’s attended a craft-brewing event that features a guest speaker has likely heard the term “community” tossed about liberally. It’s pleasant to think that my selfish pursuit of inebriation also gives me tacit membership in a community, but I’ve never paid the notion much mind. I’m far too skeptical to believe that a craft brewer looking over my shoulder at BevMo would celebrate my decision to choose a competitor’s beer because of some vague sense of family. However, after attending the 29th annual Craft Brewers Conference (CBC) in San Diego, I can tell you that spirit is surprisingly alive and well.
I’ve attended enough conferences for various industries to know how commonly they’re transparent marketing machines, but the focus of the CBC was broadly on education. On Thursday alone, there were 33 different sessions across eight tracks, covering everything from “Packaging Breweries Under 4,000 Barrels” to “Sake and Beer Hybrids: Techniques and Approaches.” Everywhere I looked there were brewmasters offering advice on how to combat problems associated with determining the scale of a craft-brew business, which demonstrates a vested interest in the industry and community as a whole.
That sense of community is likely a contributor to the sustained national growth of craft brewing, something we probably take for granted in San Diego. During the last year, craft brew has grown by 13 percent by volume while domestic non-craft brew has fallen 2.5 percent. Considering that in 2011, craft brew represented only 5.68 percent of the total volume of the U.S. beer market, this isn’t exactly David toppling Goliath, but it is a positive indicator that American tastes are shifting. In fact, metrics gathered by the Symphony IRI analytics group show that the IPA style is actually favored in their surveys over pale ales, signaling a craft-brew market that is increasingly unafraid of more bitter wares.
I think the best summary of the sustained growth of craft brewing was provided by Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association. “We are not in a bubble,” he remarked. “We are knee-deep in the foam, and the foam is still rising.” Even as more combatants appear in the retail battlefront, the CBC’s belief that a rising tide will lift all boats is apparent.