For us members of the craft beer media, the Great American Beer Fest starts with a professional presentation on the state of the craft beer industry and ends with us fleeing from 300-pound dudes wearing bagel bandoliers. And this is only one of many reasons why it is great. We attended GABF 2016, and before we were entirely overserved, we caught some good notes about the state of the craft beer industry today, as calculated by the Brewers Association.
Market place growth
Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association, kicked things off by noting the continued success (and interest in) the small, independent brewer (which, remember, is what the Brewers Association is representing) has persisted in spite of lagging growth in overall beer. Depending on how craft beer is defined in a market share analysis, one could declare that craft beer growth has slowed, but when looking at the numbers for those breweries that meet the Brewers Association definition of a craft brewer, then craft brewers were up 10 percent year over year in dollar sales. Other beers outside the BA definition were only up 5 percent.
Inside that craft beer popularity are some interesting stats about why craft beer consumers buy it to begin with. The number in the list that jumped out the most was 63 percent of respondents said they were mainly interested in craft beer because it is local. The top two choices were flavor and freshness.
The political side of the Brewers Association is really focused on two federal issues right now — passing legislation to reduce the excise tax burden on small brewers and changing the scope of the FDA’s rule concerning nutrition labeling at chain restaurants. BA leadership was feeling optimistic about both of these.
The Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act that’s been gaining bi-partisan Congressional support left and right was nearly passed last year in a tax package but was removed at the zero hour, according to Bob Pease, CEO of the BA. He believes that this will be the year for it to get through.
The FDA rule on chain restaurant menu nutritional info was delayed until May 2017, after it became clear that the original concept would be a huge undertaking for craft brewers to comply with — and would ultimately not produce information consumers really care about (are people making beer selections based on the percentage of dietary fiber in it?).
“We’ve been working with the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling at the FDA. … and they are agreeing with us that people ordering beverage alcohol really only care about calories and carbs and that’s it,” said Paul Gatza, director of the BA.
He said they are trying to work on a stylistic approach instead that would give an average calorie count for various craft beer styles since those numbers could just be used in place of the more elaborate testing. and if a brewer gets close to that average, then they should be able to avoid required testing of all those data points. Gatza was optimistic that this could happen.
The Great American Beer Festival really captures all that beer is in one event. There is fun. There is camaraderie. There is debauchery. There are people wearing lederhosen. There is also a touch of class — you just have to know where to find it.
Tucked away from the be-pretzel-necklaced masses during the Friday evening session was Paired — an event that both celebrates and educates on beer and food pairings. To attend Paired is to become a beer/food pairing evangelist, because my god the food and beer combos are melt-your-face amazing. Your CBB editor freely admits he does not have a very refined, discerning beer palate (I will very rarely be picking out “hints” or “notes” of very much), but you don’t need one to feel the power of Fate Brewing Co.’s sourific Decima cutting through the robust flavors of a roasted squash soup
or to see how Alaskan Brewing’s new Alaskan Cran-Spruce took the experience of a carrot cake with juniper cream to new levels of awesome.
Our takeaway from Paired this year, other than 10 extra pounds, is for craft brewers to understand the power of the pairing. Your pairings don’t have to be as fancy pantsy as these were, but giving a customer a slightly better appreciation for the artistry and functionality of your creation is an engaging, useful exercise.