Last week over 11,500 attended the annual Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, Oregon. I had the honor of opening the event with a short presentation. Here is what I had to say.
For 38 years I’ve been opening national gatherings of brewers. From the earliest events of about 150 beer enthusiasts to this year’s Craft Brewers Conference in Portland, Oregon with 11,500 in attendance.
I want to offer my perspectives on a few points that have guided me personally. What I want to tell you is about stuff I’ve observed and feel is relevant to all of you and your organization; the Brewers Association
I personally get passionate about doing the right things. How do I know what those things are?
I observe and think about what you all do. Why you are succeeding?
Why are small and new brewers currently having unprecedented success in countries all over the world? I keep in mind that of course success is not without its challenges.
Your success is the result of developing your brand; your image, knowing who you are and why you do the things you do; it’s about establishing core values and defining what you are as a company.
In my world, involved in the Brewers Association I recognize what you are trying to accomplish, I find myself frequently asking myself about all of you and who you are. Defining who you are is the cornerstone from which to build your brand. For what I do, as one of the leaders of the Brewers Association, defining who you are helps build the Association’s services that create success for all of you.
Others define craft beers as “fussy” beers. Others demean craft beer drinkers by referring to your customers in not so endearing terms. Others mislead with their categorization that craft brewers are “multi-nationals” just because they export beer. Others say beer is beer and there is no need to define craft beer nor define craft brewers. For some who observe the American beer scene from abroad, the craft brewer definition seems “too dogmatic … The whole size-and-ownership caboodle, … sits so prominently on the Americans’ mind.”
My message to you is DON’T LET OTHERS DEFINE YOU.
Those that demean, deny or mislead want the status quo or want a return to the past by trying to compromise your success. The past doesn’t define our future
From what I’ve experienced in my 38 year involvement with brewers associations it is absolutely essential to know how you define the group you work for. Only when that is clear can staff and board of directors establish a vision, goals, mission and strategies.
In the early 80’s we didn’t spend time defining ourselves, but we did know who, what we were and importantly we understood the types of breweries that we needed to provide benefits to.
The term “microbrewers” sufficed to capture the nature of the emerging small brewery business models at the time. It was challenging to communicate that microbrewers were distinct from the “small brewers” of the time; many who were failing and going out of business. Microbrewers were very different; had different business models, beers and an unprecedented passion for beer. It turns out I learned a very important lesson in the brewing business – People who sell & distribute supplies, equipment, technology and beer really need to understand who they are selling to or who is selling to them.
In the 1980s the beer industry, beer drinkers, beer distributors, beer retailers, and government agencies didn’t have a clue about who microbrewers were. They didn’t have a clue what their needs were. It was a hard sell to communicate who we were. It was an era in which breweries were opening for the first time since prohibition ended.
Let’s fast forward to 2015. Here is one current day indicative and significant example. Recently the World Barley Malt and Beer Conference brought together the leaders of the world brewing, malting, distilling and hops industries to discuss the current state of world-wide supply and demand, trends in global beer consumption and the future needs of brewers. They were in need of understanding the dramatic current events that portrayed small and independent craft brewers, their beer and their needs. Capturing the data that portrays developing trends and the spirit that defines small and independent breweries is of extreme importance to the future of the supply, distribution and sales part of the beer business. They really needed to know who small and independent brewers were and why? I reiterate: People who sell & distribute supplies, equipment, technology and beer really need to understand who they are selling to or who is selling to them.
The Brewers Association represents the best interests of small and independent American brewers. No other organization does that. Size matters. Independence matters. For craft brewers it matters with incoming supply of materials. It affects your costs. In the world of retail, distribution, government affairs, rules and regulations size matters. Independence matters – I observe this every single day of my career. Yet there are powerful forces out there that deny that it matters.
It doesn’t matter that you may be a large brewer, small brewer, retailer, beer distributor; all these groups have historically addressed changing economic and market conditions. They all have reformed the way they do business as well as propose reformed rules, regulations and laws. Every tier constantly addresses change and circumstances by proposing reforms. Small brewers are increasingly proposing reforms without damaging the important frameworks that benefit them.
The way I see it, being clear about who the association’s constituency is, helps identify needs and helps direct reform, program, service and event initiatives.
Never ever underestimate the importance of defining yourself as a group of small and independent brewers, yourself as an individual company, your brand and your uniqueness. It matters a lot and don’t let anyone mislead you into thinking that it doesn’t matter!
In my 38-year career with the Brewers Association and predecessor association, communicating the values of beer and small and independent brewers has always grounded me as one of the leaders of your organization. I recognize that many of your needs are unique from other types of much more powerful brewing companies. I also recognize and am certain that the success of small and independent breweries has provided immense value to the entire brewing industry and beer community.
I think that as we muddle through our differences of opinion and question some of each other’s’ strategies in our beer world today, we will look back ten, twenty, thirty years from now and we will realize that we are all better off in the beer business because small and independent breweries have succeeded.
Beer’s past doesn’t define its future. The past doesn’t define your future.
With regards to beer itself, to you as brewers and beer drinkers, I want to say ultimately, enjoy the beer you value. At this year’s Craft Brewers Conference let’s especially take time to celebrate your success. You’ve defined small business success and the world admires your achievements. Finally, I want to close by saying that the neat thing is, that the world can also celebrate – with your beer.