Memorial Day might mark the unofficial start to summer, but the solstice marking the official beginning of the season takes place on June 21 at 12:38 P.M. EDT. That also marks the beginning of prime beer drinking time for a lot of people.
Summer holidays are the most beer friendly – and it’s when macro brews from Budweiser and MillerCoors really make hay. The appeal of those middle of the road lagers isn’t necessarily the taste, it’s the ease at which they go down on a hot summer day – and the fact that you can generally enjoy a few without having to worry about side effects the next morning.
For one thing, they’re pouring in a city with sophisticated beer tastes—which has long had its pick of quality national craft options, meaning the learning curve for brewers is especially short.
It happens every time a craft brewer is sold to a macro brewer: Fans groan. Select other brewers grumble. And the beer, no matter how beloved it was just a few weeks before, loses some of its cool factor. That’s, in part, because of the fiercely independent nature of the craft community—drinkers and brewers who feel they’ve helped revolutionize the beer industry in America (and they have). But because the craft beer world is still so immature, many supporters—and brewers—haven’t starting thinking long term yet.
It’s relatively easy to start a brewery these days — certainly much more so than five or 10 years ago. And few craft brewers have reached a level where they’re thinking about what happens to the brewery when they decide to retire. Some have, of course. In 1999, Full Sail Brewing became an employee-owned facility. New Belgium followed suit, moving from 41% employee-owned to 100% in late 2012. And last year, Harpoon Brewery hopped on the employee-owned bandwagon.
I bagged my first trophy beer completely by accident. It was Westbrook Brewing Company’s Mexican Cake – an annual release that has historically seen people flock from out of state to line up hours before the Charleston, SC brewery opens. This year, seemingly in an effort to avoid that sort of mayhem, the company released the beer with no fanfare, catching many fans off guard.
While some (well, many actually) raged in the online forums – and others shouted triumphantly about finding it in their city – I happened to notice a small sign at my local Total Wine store, acknowledging they had a small amount in stock – one bottle per customer. I grabbed it quickly – with no wait. Less than an hour later, the store had sold out.
The holy trinity of craft beer states is a pretty easy one to call: Oregon, Colorado and California have led the charge for years. But as the Golden State enters its fifth year of drought conditions, with little sign of change on the horizon, some beer lovers are wondering if California brewers will be able to maintain their position of dominance.
There are some reasons to worry. Last November, Bear Republic Brewing, located in Cloverdale, which has been particularly hard hit, announced it was pulling out of the Massachusetts market directly because of the drought. On June 1, it will no longer sell beer in Texas. In fact, over the past two years, the company says it has pulled out of 26 markets – as it tries to keep up with local demand. Bear Republic is one of the higher profile breweries to be impacted by the drought so far. Other craft beer kings say though they’ve been able to avoid significant cutbacks so far, they’re keeping a cautious eye on the situation.
Over the past six years, the number of craft breweries operating in the U.S. has more than doubled. By the end of the year, experts say, there will be a new craft brewery opening in the U.S. every 12 hours.
For beer lovers hoping to try something new, that’s seemingly good news. But brewers and other insiders are growing increasingly concerned about the state of their industry. Expansion, after all, is good – but uncontrolled expansion could be a warning sign of a craft beer bubble.
Roughly every two weeks, Matt Cohen, owner and brewmaster of Fiddlehead Brewing, sells cans of Second Fiddle from his Vermont brewery. It’s one of the biggest up and coming beers in the craft scene today – and is increasingly being sought by beer lovers.