Pondering the Beer Business

Name five craft beer brewers. If you live in the US, chances are Sam Adams or the Boston Beer Company was on that list. Like ‘em or not, no beer lover in the US doesn’t know ‘em. If you live outside of the US you probably thought, “When the hell will these damn Americans stop talking about ‘craft’ beer? There’s no such thing!” Well, you’re right but that’s a different issue.

Here’s why I’m thinking about this: I stopped in at my local convenience store yesterday to pick up a 6-pack of Bully! Porter from Boulevard Brewery in Kansas City of which I’m particularly fond. They usually have it but not yesterday. In fact there wasn’t a drop of good dark beer to be had! Don’t they know that its winter and the beer nerds need our porters and stouts? Oh, they had Guinness Draught in a bottle (Brilliant!) but I said GOOD dark beer.

Sam Adams Beer Gift TagSo I settled for a 6-pack of Sam Adams Boston Lager, always a decent fall-back. I was amused to find an adhesive gift tag in it. I’ve been going on this season about how the perfect gift for a beer lover is some of his favorite beer. And now Sam Adams is making such a gift that much easier.

Jim Koch gets something that few other craft brewers in the US get. He understands marketing. He knows how to identify an audience and then craft messages to that audience. Although they make relatively few truly great beers and there are other brewers out there that are making beer that is far superior, Sam Adams remains the most successful craft brewer because Jim Koch understands that making good beer is only part of the equation.

I visited one of my favorite beer makers some time ago. I was talking to one of the brewers and he blissfully told me that their brewing philosophy is to make the kind of beer that they want to drink, then they drink as much of it as they can and sell the rest. There is a truth to this and it’s easy to admire a brewer like this that refuses to make beer designed to have mass appeal. And they are successful. They far from the best selling beer company but they make some truly great beer and have develop a loyal following over the years.

So who’s the superior brewer; the one that makes great beer and almost accidently sells it or the good-enough brewer that knows how to market his beer? I don’t know. One makes great beer and the other spreads the message of great beer. These are just my mid-December beer thoughts.

And, damn it, I still want that porter!

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