From the Editor
Ebbing of Passion Is Our Greatest Pitfall
Last year's National Craftbrewers Conference and Trade Show revealed an industry in transition. The mood was quieter, more studious than in previous years. Exhibitors talked about how much more serious customers seemed, how the brewers seemed more professional and how the new entrepreneurs seemed better prepared for bigger numbers and more serious production operations. More equipment manufacturers were on hand than ever before, including many new faces from Europe. Clearly the American craft brewing industry was something to take seriously.
Seriousness, I'm afraid, is what we got. The industry's record over the past year has been uneven, and news of some major failures among both brewers and suppliers has been part of the buzz throughout the craft beer community. All these factors have inspired more concern for the bottom line, more analysis, and more caution.
Many of these changes are real and welcome. Newcomers to commercial craft brewing are becoming wiser about the twin prerequisites for success -- a quality product and sound business practices. To that end, more brewers are taking professional training courses and becoming serious students of the craft, and more businesspeople are taking longer, harder looks at the bottom line and getting better funding, writing better business plans, and better meeting the needs and demands of the market.
The question is, "Is seriousness and caution the surest way to success?" Any review of entrepreneurship, any biography from the arts, or any symbol of achievement in specialized crafts shows the opposite -- that success belongs to those who risk.
I can't help but wonder if all of the recent attention to professionalism and numbers crunching hasn't dampened the fire that set the craft brewing revolution ablaze in the first place. I will be the last person to say that education, reason, and wisdom are unnecessary or superfluous -- they are essential to success in brewing. I will, however, forever maintain that brewing is more than the output of the data banks of brewing knowledge or the product of finely engineered systems. Behind the science and business of brewing lies an art that only a brewer can achieve. Whether brewers claim it for themselves or not, whether they are "right brainers" or strict "left brainers," beer is the product of an artist.
In some of our past articles about brewing history we have seen how big breweries like Anheuser-Busch can and used to brew excellent beers in the classic styles. Yet these large-scale industrial breweries -- as technologically advanced and well-funded as they are -- have such a persistently hard time choosing to brew craft beer. They don't understand craft beer. I'm told they don't like the taste of it. They don't have the heart for it. That weakness among industrial brewers has always been accepted as the major strength of specialty brewers -- uncompromising commitment to beer quality. Passion for the craft. Home brewers know all about passion for the craft. It is home brewers who first revived the love of great beer and brought brewing within reach of those who could take it to commercial expression. As Alan Moen points out in this issue's Last Wort, home brewers are not immune to the growing apathy in today's beer market. Perhaps it is time home brewers remember the past and reassert a leadership role in the craft beer movement.
If home brewers and craft brewers have succeeded only in raising the bar from the level it held during the middle of this century, we can claim only a minor personal success and will have failed to realize our full potential. Less than outstanding beer does not inspire. Apathetic brewers cannot infect others with enthusiasm. Unless we can sustain the public's thirst for memorable beer and instill an appreciation for the rich lore of brewing, we are admitting our own apathy and inviting the rest of the world to share it. To paraphrase a famous expression, "The death of beer is not likely to be from ambush. It will be from a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."
Craft brewing is about the pursuit of perfection in a pint. When we look to the industry and consider its prospects for the future, we should look no further than inside ourselves. Are we producing beer that attains? Do we maintain the flame that first ignited our passion for the craft?
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