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image credit: Captain Keith

Captain Keith: Big Beer & Local Beer

These days I am constantly asked if we (Flying Saucer) will support breweries backed by ABI or other major brewing conglomerates. When some friends’ brewery sold, I felt like it was a win for my friends and that we would continue to sell the beer they make so well. Then, another group of friends sold their brewery and the struggle started to become real. “Do they really NEED us anymore?” was the question I kept asking myself. How long will they even be involved with the brewery? Why is our business so important to them? I would imagine their volume has grown with the sheer expansion of their distribution network.

Flying Saucer has grown to 16 pubs. We do not franchise and I doubt we ever will. I never really wanted to grow that large. However, there was a need to help bring beer to most of the cities we occupy. In the mid 1990’s many cities like Little Rock, Memphis, Raleigh, and Columbia did not have many pubs that were interested in real craft beer. Our presence in those markets created some attention with breweries we already sold back home in Texas. We committed to them as well as the distributors to carry the torch for their brands.

I am beginning to feel like there is some squeeze going on in the distribution world. In some markets, the craft breweries we love are no longer available to us. We are being presented with more and more of the acquired brands and less of the national independent jewels. This could be a real problem if we and others like us don’t keep our loyalty in check. If we don’t support the breweries we want in our market, we could lose the opportunity to drink them. This obviously goes for consumers as well. Your choice in the marketplace is important.

This idea makes the decision a little easier: support the brands you want to keep and the breweries that need our help.

That said, there are a hell of a lot of new, local breweries popping up around the U.S. that are beginning to dilute the mix. I am beginning to think it could be too many and too fast. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good, fresh, local….anything, especially craft beer. But damn. We unfortunately have to say “No” more often than not when it comes to deciding whether we put those new, local offerings on our tap wall.

I think many people would be surprised with the number of breweries coming online these days. It is really becoming hard to just keep up. I am a big fan of local and always have been. We have always done our part to support local breweries since Day 1. But, not all that is local is good or better. Some of the locals are so small that they cannot compete with the quality and vital consistency of a Green Flash or a Sierra Nevada. They may have good intentions, but don’t always have the knowledge, right equipment, laboratory or manpower. Maybe they even got into the business for the wrong reasons. Generally, you can tell pretty quickly.

Today in Texas and all around the US, most breweries are becoming pubs, too. Their taprooms become direct competition for us and others like us. I get it. They need to make money to keep things going. We are their customer — and now, they are our competitor. That’s a tough situation sometimes. Truth is, I am happy to sell their beer as long as it is GREAT and that they don’t undercut us. I feel it’s the least they can do to reciprocate the love we’ve shown and further the gospel of craft beer. The good ones respect that. And together we can find there’s room for both of us.

So, the bottom line is this: “Big Beer” does not need us. They have the volume now with all of the discount houses and stadiums all over the U.S. The independent brewers with an attention to detail and consistent quality are who need our support. Those with GREAT product and doing it right. Perhaps you will try their beer on our tap wall and then seek out their beer at your local market. Then, maybe you will tell a friend or two — and that’s how it happens, how we all win, and how craft beer wins.

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