Beer

Craft beer is more than a trend, it’s a craft

In old news, craft beer is booming worldwide. Here in Canada it’s been growing for a while and now the government has signaled a welcomed relaxing of red-tape that challenged craft beer creativity (though sales options are still lagging). In the US, craft beer’s market share continues to grow even when overall beer consumption is down. Heck, even Belgian companies have bought into the North American craft beer market indicating interest in innovative beer is found even in markets with an established history of variety.

While many are saying that a drop in overall consumption and saturation in the craft beer marketplace should be setting off alarm bells with regard to the erosion of this trend, the documented rise in interest in homebrewing and the culture around it, should be taken as an indication that this trend is not only demand driven.

Sure, growing demand is likely fueling some hobbyists to take the leap in more established markets, but we find that people are taking up homebrewing and scaling up (succesfully) in less prime markets.

In Spain, a country known better for its wine production and consumption, craft beer has begun carving out a niche for itself. Lack of jobs available and the relative ease of scalability homebrewing provides is cited by craft beer entrepenuers as drivers for dabbling in a market where both demand and offer are both increasing exponentially in the face of a national economic crisis.

My home country of Venezuela is a big beer market, consistently ranking within the top 20 most beer consuming countries, topping the Latin American region, though a whopping 98% of the market is comprised by big brand pilsner lagers (ideal for the hot Caribbean weather).

However, a growing number of homebrewers and small craft beer producers are diversifying the offering recently… even if it only represents 0.02% of market share right now. It started with Tovar, since 1999, which has been joined by Destilo in 2009 and the now growing number of homebrewers-turned-brands popping up like Norte del Sur, Yaracuy, Dos Leones, Cacri, Pisse des Gottes and Clandestina (disclaimer: I helped with the branding on the last one), among many others experimenting with different styles and ingredients.

Ambitions of building a beer empire is not driving the trend in Venezuela. A market dominated by two big brands (Polar 75%, Regional the rest) added to scarcity in finding glass bottles and consistent power blackouts that interrupt the brewing procedure added to legal obstacles to import equipment and ingredients (due to lack of national industry and currency exchange controls) as well as legal hurdles for selling isn’t welcoming to new ventures.

Regardless, as in Spain, the community is thriving and expanding in spite of detrimental market conditions. They’ve joined forces to promote their products online and in events. Homebrewing classes help expand local craft beer culture. And while the potential profitability in the market is very different, Venezuelan upstarts’ initial motivation echoes that of their counterparts in the US long ago: their need, as consumers of beer, to have more varied options.

It is easy to look at the trend as a fad and (consistent) market growth as a bubble, but the persistent patent of communities of motivated consumer-hobbyists innovating the offering in very different markets across the world and updating antiquated legal barriers along the way signal that, while the boom may eventually subside, the global interest in the craft of beer has probably changed the industry.

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