Craft Brewing Business – A Delicate Balance

Posted by Jason Gladfelter, M.A. on May 12, 2014  /   Posted in Articles

There is no doubt that Craft Brewing Business is growing as an industry. For beer lovers, this is a great time to love beer. For brewers, this is a great time to brew beer. For investors, this is a great time to fund breweries.  It seems there is a lot of “win” to go around.

Unfortunately, tension grows between all three. Craft beer lovers (or geeks, like myself) embrace the ethos, as it were, of the craft beer industry while enjoying the suds. This ethos is difficult to define, but its salience remains strong among this group.  Brewers now have the option, opportunity and a willing audience to try new recipes or tweak old ones. Creativity remains a strong factor in brewers’ motivation. Investors see flocks of people rushing to local breweries’ taprooms to fork over money for beer. The demand is super high, so the supply must increase.

Here is the dilemma: Precision, time, money, supply, demand, quality, quantity and profit do not play well together as separate factors. They are not parts of the same pie; they are the pie. A baker does not dump flour, sugar, water, eggs and butter into a pan and place that pan in an oven and expect a cake to appear. Ingredients must be blended together correctly to achieve success.

Same with craft beer. There must be a careful blend of brewing, investment and patronage to produce and sustain a healthy industry. This means that each aspect ought to understand the others, communicate openly and regularly, and give and receive feedback with civility and encouragement.  Of course, this is not as easy as baking a cake…or a pie…but to be sustainable, difficult tasks need successful undertaking to lead to optimal completion.

This blending is not easy. People are unique and have unique life experiences that may affect this blending process, which involves disagreement, dispute, communication, perceptions and learning. We do not look forward to such aspects of this blending.

We all felt anxiety with that first phone call to a potential date, or before meeting that date’s parents. A salesperson’s first cold call ripples with anxiety. So, too, does public speaking for most people. Why? After all we are just talking to fellow humans. Yet, humans are a funny lot, which makes the above communication and interaction fragile, complicated and tense.

This is a delicate balance of brewer, investor and consumer must be maintained, or at least pursued, to keep a craft brewery a profitable, creative and enjoyable business. Tipping the scale one way will see the other aspects reeling off the other end. A brewery without investment certainly faces tough times.  An investor without product most likely faces taking a loss. A beer geek without beer just might dry up and blow away. To be sure, this brewing business is chock full of relationships that must be maintained. In this respect, people (and their interconnections) are a core ingredient in brewing.

There is no shame in asking for assistance with important and complex issues. The shame is not asking.

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