Wednesday, 23 December 2009
Does A Brewer Need An 'Extreme' Beer To Keep Drinkers Interested?
Over at Chow.com a very nice piece discusses whether Sierra Nevada has lost its 'cred' amongst craft beer lovers. The writer visits the Monks Kettle in San Francisco to find 'trendy' drinkers scornfully dismissive of SNPA.
Sierra Nevada was at the forefront of the craft beer revolution in the US. They survived the shakeout of the 90's and are now the sixth biggest brewer in the US, and rank second amongst craft brewers with an annual output of almost 700,000 US bbl (just under half a million UK bbl). One of their alumni, Scott Vaccaro, is now out on his own, brewing excellent beers in upstate New York as Captain Lawrence Brewing Co.
For some years now SN beers have been available to the UK, including recently on draught in keg and cask, and the supply chain is efficient enough that we're drinking 2009 Celebration on tap at the same time as our US counterparts.
But, the questions raised by the article seem to boil down to this: when a brewery becomes successful does that mean it has to sacrifice its 'cred' amongst drinkers? Is it right to label a brewery like SN 'mainstream'? And is this a symptom of the shark-like attitude of the ticker community in craft beer, who need to keep moving to the next 'trend', 'extreme' beer or limited edition release, or die?
In the UK, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale has been on supermarket shelves for many years, and I've had success in tuning UK beer drinkers into the US scene and overcoming perceptions created by the likes of Bud, Miller or Coors, by introducing them to SNPA. Given it can be picked up quite easily, adding a bottle or two to the weekly shop is no problem. So, a perfect crossover beer.
And in a wider sense, it's why brewers like Sierra Nevada are important to the craft scene. They're pathfinders, they make beers which don't strike apprehension or fear into drinkers. They seed the ground for what comes after, for the many drinkers who quickly develop appreciation and a taste for the other great beers the US is sending us. Without SNPA in your local Tesco, I wonder whether there would ever have been the momentum to get much of this other great beer into the market?
The brewery has shaken up its range, adding some new bottled beers to the core offering, and there's collaboration underway with Dogfish Head. But my view is that this wouldn't matter. SNPA is a great beer in its own right, and if the success it has fueled is a bad thing, then craft beer will never break out.