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EDITORIALS & LETTERS 2015 » BACK TO EDITORIALS & LETTERS INDEX
 
DECEMBER 2015/JANUARY 2016
Is There A Bubble In Your Beer?

 
Our burgeoning beer industry was chugging along at a rapid boil back in the mid-1990s when we famously “hit the wall,” suffered a downturn in production numbers, and saw a lot of brewers (and beer marketers) fold. Sure, some of them had sketchy business plans that seldom included good beer in the equation. Remember Wanker? Rhino Chasers? Elvira gave her cleavage for beer, but even that went bust.

By the early 2000s, we seemed to be back on track, with the opening of new breweries that actually had beer in their mission statement. Then came some economic “bubbles” that truly changed everything. An overheated dot-com tech world saw huge losses when money invested failed to justify any possible product remuneration. Remember Pet.com?

An economic bubble (or a speculative or price bubble) is trade in an asset at a price that strongly deviates from the asset’s intrinsic value. During the 2000 Super Bowl, 17 dot-com companies paid $44 million to drive traffic to their operations. The follow year, only three dot-coms ran ads. Meanwhile, the stock market’s NASDAQ lost a trillion (with a “T,” folks) dollars in less than a month. Investment banks eager to fleece, I mean serve, investors created subprime mortgage bundles and sold them for astronomical prices that led to a housing bubble and nearly crashed the world financial sector.

Could the rapidly growing good-beer sector be subject to a similar bubble of its own, with record prices being paid for brewing properties ($1 billion was recently paid for San Diego’s Ballast Point)?

The craft (or good-beer) segment of the American beer business is still about 10 percent by volume and a bit more by dollar valuation. The total beer pie remains at about 200 million barrels produced each year, but the portion for the Big Guys (industrial light lagers) is constantly eroding, while imports remain stagnant and craft brewing continues to record higher levels every quarter. We have almost two new breweries opening in the U.S. every day, putting us at nearly 4,000 breweries in the country, with no sign of a slowdown.

The Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., is predicting at least a 20 percent share of volume by 2020. When Kim Jordan, cofounder of New Belgium Brewing, spoke at a Craft Brewers Conference many years ago, she predicted 10 percent of the volume in 10 years — to some serious disbelief. She was right, and New Belgium continues to be a craft leader. The fact that Portland, Seattle, Boston and San Francisco already enjoy 20 percent volumes of craft beer in their markets shows this figure to be readily attainable.

We now see bankers and investment groups actively recruiting breweries for loans and investments. Will all this new money help expand the category? Or will it help bring about what might be a self-fulfilling prophecy, the dreaded “beer bubble”? Hold on to your pint glass, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

This massive but seemingly sustainable growth in the craft beer sector is well documented. Less known or documented seems to be the concomitant expansion of the user group that sustains it. Every new brewery seems to bring with it a fan base that helps the fledgling enterprise succeed. New beer drinkers themselves become evangelists for the category and help bring even more “newbies” to the fountain of good beer.

U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), who hails from a state that knows a thing or two about good beer, was quoted recently in The Huffington Post: “If you want to help the American economy, you should drink more fancy-pants beer.” He was referring to the trade deficit and the fact that the Big Guy brewing conglomerates are foreign-owned, but the point is well taken. The phrase “Take Back America” could well be “Take Back American Beer,” considering where all the real beer is owned and brewed.

The Celebrator has been covering the beer scene for 28 years, and this is truly the very best time to be a beer lover. Pass it on…
OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2015
Beer 2.0 – Mergers and Acquisitions

 
From brewing’s pioneering entrepreneurial start-ups to the halcyon days of the early ’90s to the bursting beer bubble of the late ’90s, small-batch (craft) brewing has had its ups and downs. Growth in the 21st century has been more positive and predictable, as the demand for locally made, small-batch beer continues to drive the market, giving us new brewery openings almost daily. But this success has manifested yet another unintended consequence in the form of larger breweries and financial interests covetously acquiring willing (and not-so-willing) producers to “partner” with them for the financial benefit of both.

Consumers are justifiably worried that their favorite brewer will become part of a faceless, monolithic corporation, diluting and perverting their hometown source of sacred suds. This has happened before, not only in the beer business, but in other small “artisanal” businesses held to a higher standard of quality by consumers.

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream (eponymously founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in 1978) issued stock to spread the love in Vermont and became the target of a corporate takeover when Unilever made them an offer they couldn’t fiduciarily refuse. The ice cream may have survived, but the company suffered a loss of longtime employees as the new boss sought “synergies” of distribution and production efficiencies.

In the past 10 years, artisan chocolate maker Scharffen Berger sold to Hershey’s; La Boulange bakeries sold to Starbucks (which closed the bakeries but kept the hip-sounding name); Laura Chenel sold to a French cheese corporation; and Niman Ranch (the grass-fed beef people) sold to private equity and then got bought up by mass meat purveyors Perdue Farms, Inc.

Closer to our beer mugs, Anheuser-Busch has been busy during this same time acquiring Goose Island Beer Company, Blue Point Brewing, 10 Barrel Brewing and, most recently, Elysian Brewing. SAB MillerCoors dipped its corporate toe in the mash tun by acquiring Saint Archer Brewing from San Diego. International brewing behemoth Heineken took a 50 percent position in Petaluma, California’s pugnacious Lagunitas Brewing Company, shocking the seemingly unshockable craft beer cognoscenti.

The questions remain: Is a craft beer entrepreneur bound by some unwritten concordat to never sell or seek funding for expansion outside of family, friends and fans? Can breweries expand and still maintain quality and a sense of social responsibility? Consumers will ultimately vote with their wallets, buying and supporting the products that they like, the ones that command their respect. Our choices remind us once again that this is truly a great time to be a beer lover.
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2015
Whither the Hop Spots

 
The Celebrator Beer News was not only the first magazine to focus solely on what we now call “craft beer”; it was also the first to attempt to list all the good-beer places in sections we call Hop Spots. Breweries, brewpubs, alehouses, retail stores and homebrew shops have been sought out and listed in each issue. We have gleefully added new ones as we discovered them and tried to remove closed or defunct listings.

As the United States closes in on some 3,500 breweries, the Celebrator has run out of available space to be inclusive of all the great beer venues in existence (with many more to come). Our list today at least gives our readers a directory of places that carry the Celebrator. Many of our regular readers still use the Hop Spots as a guide when traveling the ever-changing beer world.

Technology has provided no end of gadgets and applications to make our lives better and easier, including the search for good beer. Your editor regularly uses Taplister.com and FindCraftBeer.com, and there are many more. For example, TapHunter.com, FindMyTap.com, BeerMapping.com and Untappd.com all offer accurate and timely listings of good beer sources, and Untappd also serves as a beer-oriented social network.

Sadly, our Hop Spots occupy several pages of our magazine and are woefully incomplete and out of date. Our question to you, our loyal readers, is this: How important are the Hop Spots in this publication? We’d like to hear from you on this. We dropped the Midwest and Northeast Hop Spots several issues ago because of space issues, and no one seemed to notice.

You can email us at ed@celebrator.com or mail your comments to the Celebrator, P.O. Box 844, Nevada City, CA 95959. And thanks for your support.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (August/September 2015)

Dear Editor,
Love your magazine. I am traveling to Great Britain this summer, specifically Wales, York and upper Scotland. Last time I was there, I tried using CAMRA for finding pubs. That worked okay, except I like Northern California beers, aka IPAs and double IPAs. Any recommendations on either books or apps?

David Brown
via internet

Dear David,
Our recommendation for Northern California–type beer is, well, closer to home. While in Great Britain, rely on CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide to Great Britain. There are a lot of competent British beer blogs as well. Enjoy your trip. — Ed.



Dear Celebrator,
I just read the April/May issue and was pleasantly surprised to find a really nice article on Fresno’s small but growing brewing scene. Tioga-Sequoia is brewing some great beers and putting Fresno on the map in a good way. Supposedly, there are two new breweries opening or on the drawing board for our city. There is also a very nice (and expanding) brewery and taproom/restaurant in Oakhurst, on the way to Yosemite.

Sincerely,
Tim Ossun
Loeffler Chemical Corporation

Dear Tim,
Thanks for the kind words on our article, but it’s really the Fresno area that has stepped up in the last few years. Delighted we could chronicle this beery development for you. — Ed.



Dear Don Erickson,
After receiving our most recent copies of the Celebrator Beer News, I was excited to see your report on the Fresno beer scene. After reading the story and seeing the listings, I was a little disappointed that Full Circle Brewing Co. was not included, as I know that you have been here many times. Full Circle Brewing Co. just celebrated 15 years of being in business. Hopefully this omission can be corrected in the near future.

Bill McCrory
Kenny Young
Full Circle Brewing Co.

Dear Bill & Kenny,
Our veteran correspondent Don Erickson was focusing on the new places in Fresno and did not mean to ignore your long-established brewery. Hopefully, he will do a more comprehensive survey of the Fresno beer scene at a later date.  — Ed.
JUNE/JULY 2015
The Benefits of the California Craft Brewers Association

 
California was ground zero for the post-Depression good-beer renaissance, with the revival of Anchor Brewing in 1965 and the opening of New Albion Brewing in 1976. Today, California has more craft breweries than any other state in the nation. The California Craft Brewers Association (CCBA), founded in the early 1990s, recently posted data stating that the California beer industry’s contribution to the state economy has increased 18 percent in just the past year!

CCBA data show that the craft beer segment of brewing contributed more than $6.5 billion to the economy of California. That’s up 18 percent from the previous year. Craft brewers employed more than 48,000 Californians and paid over $56 million in state and federal excise taxes and more than $1.3 billion in income and other local, state and federal taxes ($880 million in state and local income taxes and $465 million in federal income taxes). During a time of economic challenges, the craft brewing industry is an oasis of success.

During 2014, the number of operating breweries grew by over 24 percent, yielding a total of 520 operating breweries in the state. The state legislature, eager to plug holes in its ever-more-demanding budget, has targeted craft brewers for much-needed revenue. The CCBA, located in the state’s capital of Sacramento, dedicates its existence to promoting legislation favorable to craft brewers and fighting forces determined to shackle craft brewers’ ability to survive and grow.

Sadly, not every craft brewery in California is a member of the CCBA, although all breweries benefit from its activities. The Celebrator Beer News is one of several organizations hosting fundraising events to provide much-needed funds to the CCBA, a not-for-profit organization. What would really help the CCBA would be 100 percent participation from California’s craft brewing community. Not only does the CCBA help our state’s brewers, but its legislative activities serve as a guide and model for other state governments around the country. Ask your local brewers if they are members of the CCBA, and if not, why not? It’s about a positive political and economic environment for the quality beer that we all love and enjoy.
APRIL/MAY 2015
Tempests in a Brewpot – To Sell or Not to Sell!

 
The news that Anheuser-Busch InBev had bought the venerated Elysian Brewing in Seattle had beer lovers in a sudsy uproar recently. How could the owners do such a thing? If, however, your Silly Con Valley start-up were eventually purchased by Google or some other yahoo for gigabundles of cash, you’d be a winner. Are breweries not businesses that, when successful, acquire value? Can brewery founders have exit strategies without compromising brewing ethics?

Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago, a producer of some fabulous brews like Sophie, Matilda and Bourbon County Stout, was sold in 2011 for a reported $38.8 million. Although some mainline beers are now brewed “off-site” (somewhere in the bowels of A-B’s 12 megabreweries), the splendid legacy of the GI founders lives on. Blue Point Brewing (New York) and 10 Barrel Brewing (Oregon) were also acquired by A-B InBev. Craft brewery Magic Hat (Vermont) bought craft brewer Pyramid (Washington/Oregon/California) and then cleverly sold it to North American Breweries (Labatt).

Before passing on a great beer and abandoning your favorite beertenders at a newly acquired former destination brewery, consider the people and the beers involved. The choice is always yours, and great beer is ultimately to be found in the glass.

CRAFT OR BEER?

Would not a beer by any other name smell as wonderful? What we call that exceptional elixir of hops and malt that we are so passionate about is once again creating conflict among the cognoscenti. In the truly olden days, there were various manifestations of fermented malt known as beer. When Fritz Maytag rescued San Francisco’s venerable Anchor Brewing Company in 1965 and New Albion opened in 1976 in Sonoma, Calif., we had a new brewing phenomenon that was to take off in the early ’80s and become known as “microbrewed” beer. When some of these breweries, Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, for example, started posting some huge production numbers, the term “micro” seemed something of a misnomer.

The term “craft” was introduced to differentiate full-flavored, artisan brewing from the oceans of industrial light lagers floating America’s beer boat. Our esteemed colleague John Holl, editor of All About Beer Magazine, in a recent editorial titled “A Single Word: The Case for Beer,” suggests doing away with the term “craft” altogether. Indeed, the cover of the most recent issue (Volume 36, Issue 1) decries “Craft Beer is Dead — Long Live Craft Beer.” Clever, but a bit off the mark, in our opinion.

Simply because the big guys try to co-opt the “craft” cache, as with Blue Moon (an “artfully crafted” beer, according to Coors) and others, does not mean that “craft” has no meaning. It’s our term, damn it, and serves as a readily discernible handle to differentiate the good stuff from plonk.

The Celebrator continues to separate the craft from the chaff. It may cost us in advertisers, but we’ve spent 27 years covering a segment of the beer industry that we enjoy and embrace passionately. Long live craft indeed.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (April/May 2015)

Dear Thomas,
I got a belly laugh reading your “Notes from the Publisher” in the February/March 2015 issue! In 1993, I was taking an agricultural business class at Cal Poly SLO. The instructor was lecturing on how the current giants of agricultural business were untouchable, including Anheuser-Busch. I confidently raised my hand and asked what A-B would do with the rise of microbreweries. He had a belly laugh in front of the whole class at my expense. Well, 22 years later, you say craft beers have more market share than Budweiser! Now I can have a belly laugh at his expense and to all our benefit!

Cheers to freedom,
Steve Burgess
Saint Helena, California

Dear Steve,
You are right, sir! Thanks for putting this in perspective. Indeed, we do get the “last laugh,” so to speak, on those who thought that the bland juggernaut of industrial light lager would prevail. — Ed. — Ed.
FEBRUARY/MARCH 2015
27 Years of Beer News... and Counting!

 
When the first issue of the California Celebrator hit the streets in January 1988, the sassy self-described “brewspaper” dedicated itself to covering the breweries and brewpubs in California — all 20 of them. This publication was founded by a beer-savvy young couple from Vancouver, B.C., whose previous publishing experience was limited to producing the newsletter for the Fogg n’ Suds beer bar in their hometown, where they both were beertenders. Earlier visits to California had convinced the pair that the Golden State was on to something, with microbreweries breaking out like a teenage skin condition.

Bret and Julie Nickels traveled around the state, visiting breweries and gathering beer knowledge with generous support and encouragement from pioneer publican Judy Ashworth. Judy founded the legendary Lyons Brewery Depot in Sunol, Calif., a tiny East Bay village in the hills between Fremont and the Livermore Valley. But before the first issue of the California Celebrator could be printed, Judy’s beloved pub burned to the ground, just before Christmas. Lyons’s back cover ad was lost as well, and the financial support for the first issue was in jeopardy. In stepped Fritz Maytag’s Anchor Brewing Company to save the day, take the back cover and help get the first issue on press.

Your current editor/publisher attended the Lyons Brewery fundraiser at the Sunol Country Club in early January 1988, when the first copies of the California Celebrator were distributed. The 12-page quarter-fold tabloid was distributed around the state from the bed of Bret’s Jeep Cherokee. Distribution took three weeks, but the Celebrator was now the go-to beer bible for California enthusiasts from north to south. A publishing legend was born.

Twenty-seven years later, the Celebrator Beer News and its coterie of erudite beer writers scramble to keep up with the rapidly expanding world of craft beer throughout the country. The San Diego region alone now accounts for over 100 craft beer producers. San Francisco Beer Week, second in the nation after Philly Beer Week’s inaugural effort, will focus its spotlight this month on a huge and rapidly growing beer industry in and around the Bay Area.

Perhaps the bigger story is how craft beer has become a significant player in the beverage world. While our early coverage celebrated bars and restaurants with only a handful of microbrews, today’s beer world finds good beer on offer in most bars and restaurants, package stores and grocery chains throughout the country. And mainstream industrial lagers are in decline.

Indeed, Anheuser-Busch’s fabled “King of Beers” Budweiser has lost so much market share that its annual production is now bested by the total craft beer production in the United States. This would have been unthinkable back when we started writing about small breweries all those years ago.

The next 27 years of beers and cheers are sure to be interesting, and we can be assured that our dedicated staff and beer-savvy writers will keep you, the reader, informed and inspired to seek out and appreciate the new beers to come. What keeps us going (aside from the financial support of our loyal advertisers, naturally) is the enthusiastic support of our faithful readers who seek out or subscribe to the magazine and keep us focused on the real story of real beer. It’s been a great run, and we’re looking forward to the many and disparate beer stories yet to be written. Thanks for your support!
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (February/March 2015)

Sir Thomas,
Yours was a brilliantly crafted dissertation on the affectation of beer snobs and their bloated effrontery towards an obviously tongue-in-cheek magazine cover (see “Notes from the Publisher,” CBN, December 2014/January 2015]. You left them with their dignity intact while gently suggesting a kinder, more open-minded route. The day that we take ourselves too seriously, my friend, we are lost. The beers speak for themselves.

Roderick DeWitt
Boonville, Calif.



Editor,
Thanks to your August/September 2014 edition, my husband and I had a great time experiencing numerous breweries and pubs throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado! We lost count — and so many good brews! THANKS, and we will continue to read and drink accordingly.

Deb and Fritz Johannes
(via e-mail)

Dear Deb & Fritz,
Glad our Hop Spots assisted you in your beery travels. We are trying to stay current, but our beer industry is growing rapidly. We appreciate your support. — Ed.
 

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