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Bulk Beer Industry vs. Small Production: The crowd is drinking it up!

Maggie Young

A variety of unique beers

At first, it may seem pretentious. When your friend, who always seems to know what the new trends are, asks you to drive down to this new Micro Brewery that opened up in town. Many skeptics ask, another one?! They’re shooting up like weeds, how many breweries can there be before enough is enough?

Others may wonder how such establishments can exist while the shelf space in any liquor-based business doesn't have an inch of cooler to spare? That pretentious local beer is always expensive, and the Coors Light sitting in your fridge isn’t looking so bad. But, why is it pretentious to enjoy local beer?

Mass-produced beer will always taste the same, look the same, its carbon-copy down to the liter. With a craft brew, you’re being charged more for the beer made from local hops, and your pint was brewed not six meters away. The cherry on top: some taprooms have card games. Rather than call it pretentious, I like to think of it as cultured.

Perhaps you argue this writer is easy to please, but the argument still stands! The price for variation is high. A community is indefinite. Variety and enjoyment are the qualities that set small-scale beer production apart from the walk-in coolers at your corner store.

Competition in the Beer Industry

Over the past couple of years, beer industry consolidation has been on the rise.

“It was less about wanting to buy local than buying something that was not a light lager, something that an international conglomerate did not brew. [The first generation of craft brewers] wanted the option for more flavor and diversity. In time, people began drinking them because they were local, but not in the beginning.”1

Being small allows these breweries to be personable, ebb and flow with the new and blooming tastes of their local drinkers. Supply and demand should be more than a capitalist transaction.

Competition in the craft beer industry is volatile, with brewers constantly leap-frogging one another to bolster their share of the market. Beer Production volumes in 2021 have been shifting in favor of smaller businesses. Craft beer’s production volume went up 7.9% in the U.S.2

Mass bottling of beers

David and Goliath

According to data from 2019, regional beer sold 17 million barrels compared to 8 million barrels from taprooms, micro breweries, and brewpubs combined.3 So, skeptics think it’s laughable even to compare these two approaches to making brews…and from a revenue perspective, they’re not exactly wrong.

There is a silver lining, however. Small production brewers aren’t solely devoted to revenue like the corporations are. The little locals are unafraid to try new brews and business! Their practice isn’t to make money on an even playing field but to concoct the best product imaginable. And it works!

One such example is a striking success in Minneapolis, MN, Pete Rifakes and his own Town Hall Brewery offer in-house bowling alleys to their patrons. Their well-cared-for lanes arguably rival the liaison fermented in their beers. Minneapolis has laws inciting a three-tier system that walls off small craft brewers to sell to retail or bars, so Pete Rifakes found other ways to get his ball rolling.4 Now that’s a unique way to bring in bowlers and anyone who enjoys a good time with a drink.

Sadly, some craft brewers aren't as lucky as Pete Rifakes. Withering brewhouses have to wave a white flag to the more prominent companies and say goodbye to the agency they have over their brewing.

According to Food and Wine, Molson Coors has a reputation for trimming the fat. “A couple of light beers are being dropped: Miller High Life Light and Hamm's Special Light are both being retired. The original Steel Reserve 211 is ceasing production, though its fruity spinoffs appear to be surviving. And sticking with malt liquor brands, the higher ABV spinoff Olde English HG 800 will be gone, as will the Magnum brand. Finally, Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve is also going to be retired.”5 Marketers will always have to make the hard decision of which beverage to let go of. If it isn’t selling, it isn’t worth making.

Though there is a danger with bigger brands' control over the little locals, craft brewers could be let go the second they can’t give the company what they want. Brands count every penny, as reported by Serious Eats, their article describes the terrible reality of watered-down beer and the larger umbrella company’s eagerness to cut corners.6 When in the beer business, that hasty decision will end with a sour, pungent beverage. To reiterate, cutting corners is the murderer of a local brewer.

bartender pouring beer from the tap

Power in the hands of the consumer

Who instigates the indoctrination of yummy beer? YOU, fellow drinker!

The giant billboard bullies telling you that drinking local and small is pretentious, claiming the major brands are all a good drinker such as yourself needs. Poppycock. It doesn't matter whether drinking local is ‘trending’ or ‘chivalrous’. Discerning consumers want a quality pint.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of easy access. Smaller companies have a more challenging time finding encompassing ways to distribute, but there is a workaround! Companies like The Original Craft Beer Club allow smaller brewers to expand their service range. Utilizing shipments to present their beverages to customers without the picky filter of an undiscerning company that’s more concerned with the money than the product.

The Original Craft Beer Club has found the pathway to connect local craft breweries and taprooms with discerning consumers without having to sell out. By delivering to a wider range of customers, it allows a web of supporters who live throughout the nation to drink beer from a small craft brewer.

Without companies like The Original Craft Beer Club finding the target market, it is perilous for smaller businesses to afford the resources needed to broaden their circle of access. While this work-around is superb, it still takes the likes of you, fellow drinker, to see beyond the veil of plain plastic coolers and monotonous liquor stores. Those mass producing businesses are just that, business. They’re more concerned with the green rectangles in your hand than your taste buds and satisfied smile. Follow the yellow brick road to the small, hole-in-the-wall establishment. Because they’re established brewers who care, and that effort always comes out in the final product.

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  1. Will McGough. (2015). The State of American Craft Beer Craft beer faces a whole new set of hurdles in 2015. Gear Patrol. Para 10.

  2. (2021). National Beer Sales & Production Data. Brewers Association. Sales Data.

  3. (2021). National Beer Sales & Production Data. Brewers Association. Historical Craft Brewery Production by Category.

  4. John Mitchell.(2013). Craft Breweries Rockin’ Unique Business Models. Craft Para. 13.

  5. Mike Pomranz. (2021). Molson Coors Discontinues 11 Beers Including Keystone Ice and Milwaukee's Best Premium. Your favorite brand may no longer be in the cooler. Food and Wine. Para. 3.

  6. Aaron Goldfarb. (2019). What "Selling Out" Allows a Craft Brewery to Do. Serious Eats. Para 3.