Back in the day, beer drinkers were lining the floor of their truck with cases of Coors on trips out of state but at some point, it stopped happening.
Why? Because Coors expanded their distribution footprint and made their beer available everywhere. The same thing happened with New Belgium and Fat Tire in the late 90’s, and now it’s happening to more craft breweries every year. Craft beer is losing its regionality, and I’m not sure if I’m completely on board.
What is regionality?
regionality | /ˌriːdʒəˈnalɪti/
1. Regional nature or character.
Regionality is quite simply, things that come from a certain region, or in beer’s case — exhibit characteristics or flavors that can be attributed to a certain region. A prime example is that of The Alchemist in Vermont. The Alchemist unknowingly kickstarted the hazy IPA trend with Heady Topper, and even in the face of extreme demand, has kept its distribution localized.
The fact that you can’t find cans in every liquor store across the country contributes to the mystique of Heady Topper, and drives people to vacation in Vermont, just to get a sip of that cloudy, hoppy beer. It drove people to track where and when Heady would be delivered, guaranteeing fresh beer and helping build the demand for one of craft beer’s favorites.
So, let’s just ponder this for a moment. What if you didn’t have to go to as much trouble to get Heady Topper? What if it was readily available anywhere and everywhere? Would it hold as much value and demand as it does now? I don’t think so.
Here in Colorado, we live in one of the hotbeds for craft brewing. Many of the earliest craft breweries broke ground on Colorado soil, and many continue that tradition to this day. But as our local and regional breweries have expanded their brewhouses, added distribution and continued spreading their brands of beer, so too have breweries from outside Colorado.
Back in late 2017, Surly announced they would expand distribution to Colorado, and after the initial rush to find Todd the Axe Man and Bender, the demand has died down a bit—leaving Surly swirling among the masses just fighting for shelf space. It makes things that once were special not as special. The beer is still good, but with so many options, our attention is divided now more than ever. As Bell’s Brewery announces full time distribution this past week, I wonder about if the demand will maintain itself six months down the road.
Tons of choices, little space
Walk down any aisle at the liquor store and you’ll see ten times the amount of variety that existed even just seven or eight years ago. You also see brands that previously only came through trades or hauled back in suitcases from vacations, just sitting there collecting dust. My worry is that the craft beer industry, as it expands and makes beer available in more places, is losing the regionality that made many brands so great.
I know it’s a natural course of business, but in the course of things we have seen some brands expand too quickly and ultimately suffer for it. The consumer in me does enjoy finding great beer at our local stores, but as other breweries enter our market, it will inevitably affect the shelf space for our local breweries.
What do you think?