The advent of “The End of History,” BrewDog’s ostentatious roadkill-themed 55% ABV brew has brought with it a lot of commentary and controversy. It’s certainly generated a lot of, well let’s say spirited, discussion on this site and we’ve seen it in various places around the web as well.
Brother Barley mentioned in a recent post that although it’s growing by leaps and bounds, the craft brew industry/movement is still relatively fragile. I agree with this to a large extent – the brewing industry (at least in our country) is still dominated by a very small number of monstrous companies who by and large produce garbage beer. On one hand, I really think that BrewDog has jumped the shark, coming out with a ridiculously overpriced product in a down economy. To top it off, it’s inside a stuffed rodent! At $750, this alehead will be steering clear. As I’ve said previously, one of my favorite things about being an alehead is how accessible top brews are from a cost standpoint. My view on BrewDog is that they’re like religious extremists – beer jihadists, if you will – the vocal minority whose views are far outside the norms of the craft brewing community. They tend to say and do things that are so extreme that even proponents of the movement like us think they’re nuts.
On the other hand maybe there is some good that can come of this. It’s rare that you hear beer discussions on social networking or news aggregation sites like Digg and Reddit, but BrewDog has made the front page of both with their stunt (and yes, it is a stunt) within the last week or two. I’m guessing not more than one or two of the millions of readers of those sites will actually taste The End of History. However, without fail there’s an active discussion in the comment section of each of the articles on these websites that goes something like this: “Yeah, BrewDog is nuts, but you should really try Raison D’Etre or Three Philosophers.” So perhaps in this case any publicity is good publicity. It is certainly possible that BrewDog’s antics will get people to try some more craft beers, and in my mind that’s a great thing.
At this point, it’s not clear whether BrewDog will help or hurt the craft beer movement. So what is the current “state of the nation” in the brewing industry, and where do craft beers fit in, anyway? Well, big houses like Anheiser-Busch (InBev), Miller, and Coors represent something like 80-90% of all beer sales in the country. According to the 2009 statistics from the Brewer’s Association, craft beers only represent 4.3% of volume and 6.9% of retail dollars in the US market. Sam Adams, as discussed previously, is in danger of losing its’ craft beer status (meaning that it produces more than 2 million barrels a year). The big breweries continue to gobble up craft brewers as well: Just this week, it was announced that Magic Hat (one of my favorite breweries) and Pyramid Breweries are close to being sold to North American Brewers, makers of the, um, “well known” Labatt and Genesee brands. It’ll be a sad day if that happens.
Things are looking up though: 90% of the roughly 1,500 breweries in the US are small and independent. Numbers are up as well, with 2009 showing an increase in the number of breweries, volume of production, and sales of craft beers over 2008. This is despite a decrease in overall beer sales due to the recession. People like their beer, and I think Americans are starting to learn what good beers really taste like. And craft brews are starting to appear in other countries as well: Pabst Blue Ribbon has just released a craft beer that will only be available in China. This will be the subject of a future post. It’s that interesting.
In short, things are going well for the craft beer movement. Even though I think BrewDog’s latest contribution is little more than a gimmick, it is getting a lot of press. The guys are actually pretty funny in their videos, and I like that they’re not too serious about themselves. I think that brewers like this could end up helping the movement in the long run – they clearly won’t make money off The End of History, but they might just raise some interest in craft beers. Let’s just hope PETA doesn’t get involved. And there ends my rant.
For those who are tired of reading about BrewDog, here are some fun links:
Beer Wars: A documentary describing the state of the brewing industry in America. It looks pretty good, has anyone seen it? The trailer includes such memorable truisms as “everything in America that’s important is around beer” and “most Americans have never actually had real beer.” If you’ve got Netflix, you can stream this one.
Drink Yourself Back to the Middle Ages: Ever wonder how beer was made in the dark ages? Check it out.
GQ has released their list of “50 Beers to Drink Right Now”: An excellent tagline, “I”d tap that.” Indeed. In a move that was clearly engineered to infuriate Ripped van Drinkale, Allagash White takes the top spot. Discuss.