Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Great American Beer Fest: Session 3 - The Awards

As soon as I can decompress and go through my notes and interviews, I promise a more thorough piece on what, exactly, the point of the Great American Beer Festival is. For now, let's congratulate the 4 Wisconsin crafts that managed to score a medal.

Stevens Point Brewing Company took Gold for their Horizon Wheat (unfiltered)
Titletown Brewing Company took Gold for their Boathouse Pilsner (Bohemian)
New Glarus Brewing Company took Bronze for Raspberry Tart
Capital Brewing Company took Bronze for Weizen Dopplebock

Oh. And Miller won a few as well, but I can't really, in good conscience, consider them a Wisconsin brewery since their headquarters is now in Chicago and they are owned by a South African conglomerate.

Also, thank you for representing to the Wisconsin crafts that did actually attend the event this year:

Capital Brewing Company
Grumpy Troll Brewery, Restaurant, and Pizzaria
Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company
Lakefront Brewery
New Glarus Brewing Company
Northwoods Brewing
Pearl Street Brewing Company
Red Eye Brewing Company
Sprecher Brewing Company
St. Francis Brewery
Titletown Brewing Company

11 of the 66 breweries in the state; 5 of which are brewpubs. (Stevens Point Brewing Company was not actually at the festival, but only entered beer in the competition)

I do have to take a brief aside and vent for a minute though.

These 11 breweries represent less than 17% of the breweries in the state. That more than 1/3 of the breweries participating managed to score a medal is phenomenal. Colorado had more than 66% of their 100+ breweries participating; of course the event is held there. California, with 220 freaking breweries, had better than 30% there. Even looking at the Midwest: Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio had over 25%; Indiana had 32%; Illinois had 36% of their breweries participating. Wisconsin's Brewers Guild did not have a booth at the GABF.

No wonder the rest of the country doesn't respect us. And, yeah, I understand not needing external confirmation or validation of quality. We make damned good beer, who cares what the rest of the country thinks? Well, pretty soon this state will be saturated with breweries (from inside and outside of our state) and our breweries will competing on the shelves with the Ohio, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana breweries. Not to mention California and Colorado and Oregon. And breweries that have some flashy bling to hang on their sixers and 22s to show off a bit. Just looking at the numbers, there is a considerably better chance that consumers will have never heard of the Wisconsin brewery.

I understand it's a short-term expense, but it's long-term marketing that will pay off. Sure, it'd be nice if the Brewers Guild was able to hold a festival to raise money, like other states' brewers guilds do, to subsidize brewery entries. But even in the best circumstances you can't rely on that; breweries need to get out and market and sell some beer - because sooner rather than later our breweries will need to rely on someone other than the Wisconsin beer drinker to make some cash and stay in business.


  1. New Glarus seems to be doing just fine only selling to Wisconsin consumers. Sorry, but this comes off as inferiority complex.

    I've heard interviews with a few brewers that say medals and even sending beers to festivals does nothing to increase sales.

  2. I don't see it so much as an inferiority complex, and I understand the arguments of 1) don't expand beyond your capabilities, 2) don't go out just to go out without a plan, and 3) we don't need no stinkin' medals to know our beer is good. But it was odd to see so little of Wisconsin beers. Not just at the GABF, but there was none at the bars and none at the stores and none in conversation.

    I see it as a common issue with a lot of Wisconsin businesses. We don't market ourselves well. We are a quiet group. "We know we're good, and once you hear of us and try us, you'll think so, too." The problem is that no one hears. It is not always the best that survive, but it is the one that people buy that survives. You only buy what you know about and can find.

    And yes, New Glarus is doing fine, and I am sure will continue doing fine whether they expand outside of Wisconsin or not. But what about the other 60+. Can they all survive on Wisconsin consumers alone? Should they? Why not strive for more?

  3. I don't see it as a crisis for WI brewers as yet - you've raised the issue more than once, but I'm not convinced the brewers in wisconsin are ignoring the situation. They may very well be considering their options and, being conservative business owners, have chosen to NOT expand marketing, sales, etc outside the state. No identity crisis, no sales crisis, just business planning. Every successful business has to be looking ahead, if they don't they become one of the thousands of businesses to fail each year. On the other hand - yes, the wisc brewers guild needs to do more as an association to promote its members outside the home market.

    To counter the idea that noone knows anything about Wisconsin Breweries: California has 220 breweries...I'm in the industry and can only name maybe a dozen of them. The others....they don't market/sell to Wisconsin or maybe even outside of California and many many consumers don't know anything about them either. The same would go for Oregon, Washington, Texas, New York and even Colorado. in short- so what?

    If the business is doing well (and many wisc. breweries are) and have a plan for the future...why keep second guessing them? As someone who has been in business as an owner, a manager, an hourly employee and even as a dishwasher... there is nothing as bothersome as an 'outsider' continuing to say "you should...." I've learned to be very carefule when talking shop in that regard - those in charge/control who make decisions will hopefully make the best choice possible. If not, they may not be around long enough to correct the error...and maybe they shouldn't be.

    Erin asks
    -Can they all survive on Wisconsin consumers alone? If they can sell what they produce and cover their costs...Yes.

    - Should they? If it's their plan, their choice, why shouldn't they?

    - Why not strive for more? Maybe they don't want to. Again, it's a business decision for them to make, and suffer the consequences or the benefits.


  4. Striving for more is fine, but remember, distribution outside of the state is a pain on many levels (regulations, competition/shelf space, beer quality in transit/with distributors/in retail) A few breweries are taking up expansion plans such as Three Floyds to grow their distribution...unfortunately this has lead to shortages in their "home" markets (namely, Chicago and Michigan) where stores aren't even ordering more and letting customers know why. Surly had to close accounts in Chicago and even within MN because Minneapolis demand surpassed their production capacity.

    Can the 60+ survive as one of 100 different breweries on a shelf in Colorado, California, or even Michigan? New Glarus of course would have no problem with their name recognition, but I would imagine any of the others (outside of the big guys - Capital, Sprecher, etc) would have a hard time finding shelf space, let alone sales in a lot of markets.

    As for the "other 60+" I assume that includes brewpubs that don't currently package or sell off premises. It's easy to spend other peoples money -> Bottling/canning lines, distribution/advertising, legal, etc...not to mention increasing production to make sure the locals aren't screwed when demand doubles. We're talking $ Millions in a bad economy.

  5. New Glarus inferiority complex? Why because they make and sell there beer only in the state where they reside. Isn't the reason for the rise of craft beers was to have a good variety brewed locally.

  6. "inferiority complex" was in reference to the tone of the article, not New Glarus...New Glarus is doing outstanding work, and is very successful selling only within the state.


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