Review (Two Columns)

22 January 2018

Beer bubble? (Turn the boot!)

John C. here. I'm going to start by going off topic and admitting I have a problem. I just can't seem to delete old emails. I try. I really do. But a glance at my gmail inbox as I'm writing this shows I have 4,474 unread emails out of a total of 16,703. Like I said, it's a problem.

However this collection of old emails does lead to some gems. I was scrolling through a few the other day in a mostly futile attempt at deleting them and I ran across this classic from 1/4/2012 that I sent to Spike and Dustin at Terrapin Beer. The subject was "FYI - Shakeout is Coming." What did the email say?

"USA: Number of actual and breweries in planning skyrocketing – unofficial estimate


At the end of November (2011), there were 1,927 US breweries and brewpubs, including over 50 that opened in just the last 2 months, Beer Marketer’s Insights report.


The official Brewers Association statistics are that there are now 858 breweries in planning in the USA. Not all of those will come to fruition. But that number has skyrocketed...... at mid-year 2010, there were 389 in planning."


I look back at this now and laugh. Did I really believe the bubble was going to burst when there were ONLY 2,000 breweries? Who was I kidding? Today we have more than 6,000 breweries in the US and more opening every day. Actually 2.5 opening every day! As you can imagine the growth in craft breweries in the last 5 years has led to multiple questions and an ongoing conversation about when the craft beer bubble will burst. You see it mentioned in articles ranging from NPR to the New York Times to my personal favorite - a response from WLOS to the Wall Street Journal. I'm here to tell you unequivocally that it will not happen!

That's right. No bubble is going to burst - if by "bubble" you mean a huge correction where we find 20% of craft breweries closing in the next 6 to 9 months. It's just not going to happen.

The best explanation I've seen yet comes from Joe at In a post from October 2017, he puts up this chart:

He then goes on to point out the difference in the 1880's and today.


Historically, we have seen the number of breweries rise rapidly and fall dramatically. Through the middle of the 19th century, the number of breweries grew as immigrants.....opened neighborhood breweries. In 1873, the number of breweries in the U.S. reached a peak at over 4,000 (Brewers Association), at a time when the population of the U.S. was about 45 million people. That works out to 1 brewery for every 11,000 people. If we had a proportional number today, we would have over 29,000 breweries.....


What about the fall that followed? The....decline in the number of breweries that begin in the late 19th century saw a move from neighborhood breweries to large-scale factory production. Railroads and refrigerator railcars made national distribution possible. Cost efficiencies of large scale production made local breweries less competitive.....


The reasons for the previous contraction in the number of breweries would not seem to apply today.... we are in a long-term consumer trend favoring local, craft, and artisanal products.....Big Beer continues to lose market share at a rate of about 2% per year...... the drop in the Big Beer share of the market and that of nationally distributed craft beers can both be seen as signs of the prevailing trend toward local beer, moving us closer to the state of affairs in the 1870s, when every neighborhood had its own brewery.


I have to agree. If Joe's numbers are correct, we are nowhere near having the number of breweries per capita that we had in the late 1800's. That's one sign there is still room to grow. Another sign of potential continued growth is the fact that craft beer is currently around 12% of the overall beer market. I can not recall the source but I read somewhere that other food industries (coffee, bread, etc.,) tend to have the "craft" segment grow to around 25% to 30% of the overall market. And there's a third sign that craft beer will likely continue to grow. That is the focus today on local, or hyper local as some are calling it. This has led to a huge increase in beer being sold in brewery tap rooms.


Now you know. I personally do not believe the "craft beer bubble" will burst. But I do believe we are going through a rapidly changing market for craft beer. That focus on hyper local is hitting some established craft breweries really hard. And it will hit other breweries extremely hard in the near future. I'll touch on that in more detail next time.

Please comment below and let me know you thoughts. Is the craft beer bubble coming? Have we jumped the shark? (Extra points if you get that reference. The Fonz was my hero growing up.)

Cheers, John


02 March 2018

Keys to Success in Craft Beer: Part 2

Last time I listed what I believe are three keys to success in the craft beer industry. They are 1) Be Passionate, 2) Know Your Why, and 3) Remain Relevant. If you missed that first post that covered Passion, you can find it here. In this followup post I promised to dive deeper into the "WHY" behind UpCountry Brewing so let's get to it. If you have not yet watched the Simon Sinek video, please do so now. It will profoundly change your view of how the world works.

Even though Simon gave a great TED Talk on finding your "WHY", the concept is not new. It has been discussed for hundreds of years. Just ask these peeps:

Image result for find your why imagesRelated imageImage result for albert einstein strange is our situation

Wow - heady stuff. There are many more quotes but lucky for you I didn't want to spend all that time surfing the net, copying and pasting. I could also go on about how important it is to find your "WHY" but I won't do that because deep inside you know it is true. You do. Instead I'm going to talk about my personal "WHY" and how that relates to UpCountry Brewing.

As I write this I am 48 years old. Some think that is really old, others tell me I'm still a kid. It is what it is. I only mention my age because it has taken me most of those 48 years just to maybe/kinda/sorta figure this life thing out. What I've finally realized is that in my personal life it comes down to Family and Community. That personal "WHY" of Family and Community feeds into the "WHY" of UpCountry Brewing. Over the past year we have been far from perfect (stories for another time) but we continue trying.

This "WHY" of Family and Community can be found in our mission statement and our core values:

Mission Statement: To create awesome experiences while sharing our passion for craft beer, local music and for getting outside.

Core Values:

People First - We’re all in this together.

Right Thing, Always - Do it like your mama is watching.

Excellence in Everything - If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.

Air it out - Sometimes you just have to fight, hug it out and have a beer.

Community Support - This is our home and these are our family and friends.

Have Fun - We’re in the beer business! ‘Nuff said.

I'd like to end this post with one more quote. This one is from a gentlemen who has influenced me and so many others in craft beer. This industry would not be what it is today without his impact over the years. Thanks Charlie.

Image result for Charlie Papazian

"A brewery without a clear identity is like a country without a constitution." - Charlie Papazian

We would love to hear from you. When you visit UpCountry is our "WHY" apparent? If not, what is it you see us doing that is not congruent with our "WHY". What can we do better? Please let us know.

Cheers, John C.

19 March 2018

Keys to Success in Craft Beer: Part 3

This is the final blog post about what I believe are three keys to success in the craft beer industry. If you missed the other posts, those keys to success IMHO are 1) Be Passionate, 2) Know Your Why, and 3) Remain Relevant.

So what do I mean by "Remain Relevant"? There are now well over 6,000 breweries in the U.S. with 2.5 opening per day. As a craft beer consumer, that's awesome. As a craft brewery owner, it's fun and worrisome all at the same time. Fun because there is nothing I love more than seeing and actively helping other brewers succeed. Worrisome because as the market becomes more crowded it becomes increasingly difficult for everyone to prosper.

Image result for hyper local In the craft beer industry much of the discussion today centers around the term hyper-local. A few weeks back, I wrote The Times They Are A-Changin'. It focused on the proliferation of breweries and how the definition of local is constantly evolving. People who used to consider a brewery in their section of the country to be local switched to only recognizing a brewery in their state as local. Then it moved to seeing only the breweries in your city as local. Today, it's only the brewery in your neighborhood that's regarded as truly local.

If today's consumer is mostly supporting their neighborhood breweries, how does a brewery succeed when they expand to other cities or states? For most of the 6,000 breweries open today, it's not a concern. They only plan to sell to their immediate neighbors. And that is cool. To me, that is the future of craft beer. But for those breweries who have been around a while and are in several states the key to success is to be local in every market. Huh? How can you be local if you make your beer elsewhere? You can't. But you can attempt to be relevant in every locale your beer is sold.

For UpCountry Brewing, "Remaining Relevant" has two components. The first is our focus on West Asheville. It is not just where our taproom and brewery are located, it is also the place from where our culture and our brand derives. It's a place that is a little bit hip, somewhat eclectic, and full of diversity. People in West Asheville love great beer, wonderful music, amazing food, and they share a passion for the outdoors. They are accepting, authentic and, like Vernon T. Waldrip, they are bona fide.

The second part of "Remaining Relevant" for UpCountry has to do with our region. The name UpCountry means mountains. Our goal as a brewery is to take the vibe and feel of West Asheville and use it to celebrate and support our mountains and our region. That's it. We are not trying to be a large craft brewer. We don't plan on selling beer in New York or California. Yes, we are growing and yes, we will sell UpCountry beer outside of Asheville. If all goes well, we may eventually need another taproom or a larger production facility. That will not change who we are or what we are trying to accomplish, which is to be the best brewery we can be while putting our focus on an area that stretches maybe 75 miles from our home in West Asheville. As long as we keep our eyes on this little green circle on the map, we will be successful by our standards.