Brooklyn Brewery co-founder and chairman Steve Hindy knows a thing or two about craft beer. First of all, he heads up one of the oldest and largest craft breweries in the country. And then there's the fact that he's had a leadership role in the Brewers Association since its creation (in its current form) in 2006. Plus, he kind of wrote the book (two of them in fact) about opening a brewery as well as the history of the industry.
You'll be facilitating a panel discussion on March 25 at NOLA Brewing called "The State of Craft Beer." What are your thoughts on the state of craft beer?
Well, as you know, craft beer is booming. I feel that the reason that it's booming is because of the 3,400 breweries in operation as well as the millions of individual beer drinkers are talking about and promoting craft beer all over the world, and especially in their communities. The craft beer boom is an organism with thousands of feet on the ground and growing exponentially through word of mouth, primarily. It's much more certain these days that craft beer marketing and growth is driven by craft beer drinkers getting excited about craft beer and their local breweries.
But there are so many questions about what the future will hold. For example, there's a lot of private equity in the craft beer space (laughs). OK, I don't use that term "space" like that usually, but the business speak gets in your head I guess. Anyway, money seems to shoulder aside the founders and bring in professional managers. For example, that just happened with Southern Tier. Obviously, Anheuser-Busch is aggressively buying up craft brewers, that's been all over the news lately.
Their purchase of Elysian [Brewing Company in Seattle] was particularly disappointing. Dick Cantwell [one of the three owners of Elysian] was a leading light in the craft beer community and it came down to him being outvoted by his two partners. I still haven't spoken to him - I've tried reaching out but we haven't connected yet - but you have to look at that and see that's a very interesting situation. Anheuser-Busch is a very large company, of course, and it remains to be seen what their plans are for these breweries. One thing that's been apparent already is that they've cut the keg prices of these acquisitions.
[Dogfish Head Brewing owner] Sam Calagione said once that there are going to be winners on all craft beer platforms. Winners in brewpubs, hyperlocal breweries, regional, national, international breweries. That rings true to me. It's hard to know what's going to happen in the future. The Brewers Association has a goal to have 20% of market share by 2020. Speaking of the association, it's becoming more and more prominent and powerful, dealing with national and state issues, and it can be seen as a threat to the status quo to brewers and distributors.
We're going to have a lot to talk about, is all I'm trying to say.
Why is it important to have these discussions frequently in the public eye?
Unity in the craft beer industry is very important. And events like this allow me - as a brewery owner, as a board member of the Brewers Association - to hear from many different brewers and beer country. And it's really important for the Brewers Association to listen. [All About Beer magazine editor-in-chief and panelist] John Holl was happy to be a part of this discussion because he understands how important it is to get out there and listen.
For example, I was at the Australian Craft Brewers Conference last May and there's a bunch of brewers up in arms about the tax benefit that American brewers get that Australian breweries don't. I asked the chair of the Craft Beer Industry Association there about the controversy and he said, "oh, that's not our organization that's spearheading that, it's the Real Craft Brewers Association." That's like my nightmare, having opposing associations. How can you get anything done? That's why it's important to talk all this out on a very frequent basis.
Why is the Mash such an important part of the brewery's work?
Our marketing, from the very beginning, focused on connecting with the creative communities in New York. We always would donate beer to non profit organizations. It's for a good cause, and it makes us feel good to be viewed as as playing a positive role in the community.
Having the Mash in different cities, it's really important for us to have this kind of active presence rather than doing traditional media advertising. This feels more like home to us— plus it's fun.
We have a new event this year, the Brooklyn Beefsteak [at the Republic in the Warehouse District on March 29] that's gonna be fun. Beefsteak dinners are an old New York tradition, for the brewers to get together, back in the early 1900s, when there were a lot of them. There's no silverware, you just get an apron handed to you upon arrival and tear into it. It's kind of a caveman quality - and cavewoman, the event is very much open to all—like a savage approach to dinner.