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May 05, 2008


Bob Skilnik

Historically, the problems of brewing material scarcity have bubbled up throughout U.S. brewing history, even going as far back as the colonial era. In every case (no pun intended), it has meant a move towards not necessarily cheaper ingredients, but alternative ones.

While beer writers note that The Founding Fathers were often brewers, some of their surviving recipes wouldn't make the first round at any local homebrew contest. "Alternative" brewing materials aren't necessarily a good thing, although English brewers have certainly demonstrated that good beers can be made, even if they aren't all-malt products.

Food control bills during WW I and grain restictions during WW II and the Marshall Plan meant more adjustments to the kettle.

Passing along the new higher costs can hit the price-sensitive beer drinker and give the macros a chance to fill the gap with clean and well-crafted "pseudo crafts." Depending on your point of view, that could be a good thing, giving the average beer drinker a chance to taste what craft beers might be all about.

On the other hand, because of lower prices and widespread availability, it could also mean a Coors drinker, for instance, might just move sideways to a product in the Blue Moon line, never jumping to a craft product.

I suspect we'll see a lot of tweaking in craft beer styles in the next few years, maybe even a sabbath on some of the more aggressively-hopped beers such as IPAs. Despite the spin that some beers can be priced in the range of lower-priced wines, for many, it all comes down to the notion that "it's just beer."

With no real industry leadership, such as what the USBA used to offer, it would be nice to nonetheless see the formation of some sort of perhaps regional co-op development between breweries to help them lower material and production costs by economies of scale.

While no one has bowed to the very real idea of merging with bigger breweries in the survey---whether macro or well-heeled regional---it's already happening and it looks to be with good results...and once again, I note that this is a repeat of a historical pattern.

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