What to Watch For: Beer in 2012
We’ve wrapped up 2011 in a nice little package for you, but let’s take a look forward: what beer stories can we expect to hear in 2012? Here are some stories to watch for in the coming months, and some of our predictions - however misguided - for 2012:
More new breweries ready for launch
Of the nearly 900 breweries in development nationwide, a half-dozen are in New York City proper. Well over a dozen or so are just outside the city, in the Hudson Valley, Long Island, or New Jersey. Companies like Newburgh Brewing Company are putting finishing touches on brick-and-mortar locations and are slated to put out their first beers early this year, others like Bolero Snort are playing the waiting game with the arduous state and Federal permitting process, and still others like City Island Beer Company are just getting off the ground. Plus, with others like Spider Bite Beer Co. and Port Jeff Brewing just launching recently, expect to see a whole lot more local beer options in and around New York City this year.
Brewery expansions mean more beer options
Last year’s news that Captain Lawrence would be expanding its operations at a new brewery in Elmsford raised the most important question of all: would we get more of their beer in bottles? After all, right now the Captain’s Reserve Imperial IPA and their special one-off releases are the only bottles sold at retail. The answer, naturally, is yes: 12-ounce bottles of Captain Lawrence are coming to your fridge in the 2012.
And Sixpoint's release of 16-ounce cans brewed off-site in Wilkes-Barre in 2011 means more beer from them in 2012, too. Their seasonal releases haven’t even completed one full cycle, so we can expect to see a spring release of a beer that just might be inspired by their hiring of a German braumeister.
Brooklyn's expansion means more opportunities to get their smaller-batch beers like the Brewmaster’s Reserve series. And you can thank the expansion for the rumor that one of their much-beloved Belgian-style bottled beers is heading into kegs in 2012 as well.
Someone will build a better beer festival in New York
We really hope this is true. Look, we’ve been impressed by the Get Real events throughout the year, which have brought people access to great craft beers in one place at one time in a relatively smooth and trouble-free manor. But their events are relatively small and tend to have a singular theme, like cask beer or Belgian beer.
And we liked the Brooklyn Pour put on by the Village Voice, because it was a very well-run event by people who know how to put on a big festival. But the venue’s layout was not ideal for a beer festival, and the beer options were mediocre at best, because the beer was donated by the breweries.
This is New York. It’s a world-class city, and it deserves a world-class beer event. We’ve seen some absolutely disastrous beer events organized with little regard for the things that make beer events we hold in very high regard (like Great American Beer Festival or Vermont Brewers’ Festival) so great. We’re not holding our breath, but we’re hoping that will change as craft beer gets a foothold in New York. Maybe this year, someone will answer the call. Who will it be?
More out-of-state breweries hit New York’s shores
Probably one of the most common questions we get is, “why can’t I get [fill in the blank with an out-of-state beer] in New York?” But in the past couple years, those questions have been asked less and less, as brands like R.J. Rockers, Clown Shoes, Laughing Dog, and Maine Beer Company arrived in 2011, and the local beer scene continues to improve (in fairness, most of Narragansett’s beer is brewed in Rochester, New York).
Of course, that won’t stop people from asking us about brands like Bell’s and Lost Abbey/Port Brewing, and countless other regional brands that haven’t made it to our state. And with New Jersey the latest beneficiary of the latter of those, and New Belgium creeping its way up the coast while searching for a second brewery site in the Eastern Time Zone, the questions about America’s third-largest craft brewery won’t stop anytime soon, either. You can bet that like in 2011, a handful of out-of-state breweries will enter the New York market. Entering the New York beer market is an expensive undertaking (permitting, registering, transporting, and distributing all cost money), so it needs to be done cautiously. Meeting the demand of the New York beer market costs money, too; so the breweries most likely to cross state lines are the ones with capital and capacity.
Personally, we think that more isn’t always better. If New Belgium started distributing in New York, we don’t think it would attract any new craft beer drinkers. It would only take market share away from the brewers who are already here - especially the local brewers, who rely solely on their sales in this market. If you want to drink beers that don’t distribute here, feel free to violate Interstate Commerce laws. Heck, New Jersey is just a PATH train ride away. New York is blessed with plenty of great beer options… and while variety is the spice of life, we should enjoy what we already have.
More concern about the bubble bursting
There are plenty of younger craft beer drinkers who may be unaware that in the late 1990s, for a variety of reasons, the craft beer bubble burst. Sales dropped and breweries closed. Annual volume growth in craft brewing plummeted from 58% in 1995 to 1% in 1999. There are plenty of reasons why this happened, but one reason was a backlash against “good” beer. We put “good” in quotation marks, because the early-90s craft beer bandwagon resulted in some pretty mediocre - or just plain bad - beer being brewed by people who wanted to profit from craft beer’s success.
Five years ago, very few people were worried about the “craft beer bubble” bursting again. After all, the number of breweries operating had just barely eclipsed its 1996 high before the first craft beer bubble deflated. But now, some folks in the beer industry have expressed concern about the sheer number of breweries in planning. If even half of the breweries above in planning come to fruition, the U.S. will have more breweries than it had before the turn of the 20th century, when lack of refrigeration made local breweries a necessity.
So why is that troubling? Well, we could very well have a repeat of the mid-1990s, as people trying to make a quick buck off of craft beer’s popularity degrade the quality of craft beer as a whole. And at the same time, “beer snobbery” seems to be worse than ever, and that tends to turn people off to craft beer - even those who are just exploring it for the first time. With a forthcoming 40-50% increase in number of breweries and a 12% annual increase in sales, supply could eventually outpace demand. That’s not good for the future of any industry.
We’re not naysayers here, we promise. We want the craft beer industry to succeed! But we need to keep an eye on these trends with an eye to what happened in the 1990s. After all, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
Now, what does this all mean for New York? Probably not much in the short run. We’re late to the party, in terms of the growth in both craft beer sales growth and brewery openings. But in the bubble-burst of the 1990s, New York City watched four brewpubs close in five years. Again, let’s just hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
Of course, who knows what 2012 will really bring? We do know this: new bars will open, new beer stores will open, new beers will be released, and most importantly, we’ll be drinking. Cheers to the New Year!