Beer, Beer, & Better Beer

Buyouts and 'craft' conflict: beer stories to watch in 2018
Kyle Montgomery, HopCat Madison Beer Program Manager | January 10, 2018

One of the HopCat family’s resident experts, Madison Beer Program Manager Kyle Montgomery, gazes into his crystal ball (by which we mean “his own comprehensive knowledge of the beer-making business”) to offer some predictions about which stories and trends will affect what we drink in 2018.


As larger "craft" breweries continue to expand into new markets, they realize the importance of establishing a connection with local consumers. A great way to forge this connection is to tie the enjoyment of a brewery's offerings to an actual physical space. We can see this trend in action with Ballast Point's forthcoming Chicago brewpub, as well as Goose Island's handful of domestic and international brew houses, including locations in South Korea and Brazil.

Corporate Buyouts

2017 saw an unsettling number of independent craft breweries gobbled up by the usual international behemoths, as well as by larger craft breweries and craft collectives. As growth among the craft sector continues to slow and retail space becomes more and more limited, it's unlikely that we'll see this trend slow in the coming year. 

Brewers Association Independent Craft Brewer Seal

While attempting to determine who owns whom in today's craft beer scene can prove a dizzying endeavor, the Brewers Association's new Independent Craft Brewer Seal is designed to make this task at least somewhat easier. Breweries that are small, independent, and traditional qualify to display the seal on their packaging and promotional material. 

This designation is not a suitable replacement for thorough research, however, as "small," is defined as a brewery with an annual production of less than 6 million barrels, and "independent," is defined as less than 25% ownership by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. For example, if a larger craft brewer (by the Brewers Association definition) acquires 100% of a smaller craft brewery, that smaller craft brewery would still be considered an independent craft brewer. As such, they would be free to flaunt the Independent Craft Brewer Seal. 

Quality Matters

With craft beer sales growing at a slower rate (6% growth in 2016, down from 13% in 2015) and 2,739 new breweries in the planning stage adding to an increasingly crowded marketplace, breweries will begin to fail. 

While no one likes to see a small independent brewer fail, there is no arguing that there are plenty of breweries across the country that have managed to survive while putting out sub-par products. In my own hometown in suburban Philadelphia, there are a handful of breweries that seem to get by for the mere fact that they brew their own beer.

As soon as this year, simply having a taproom with some shiny fermenters behind the bar will no longer cut it. With competition continuing to increase, and growth beginning to slow, quality and consistency will become crucial to a brewery's survival.

While at first glance this may appear a bleak prospect, this emphasis on brewing consistent, high quality beer will be good for both the craft beer consumer and the craft beer industry as a whole. 

As an industry, we will see less bastardized renditions of our favorite styles crowding shelves and tap towers. As anyone who's had a poorly produced sour beer or IPA can attest, it only takes one bad example of a particular style to turn a drinker off to that style entirely. 

As consumers, we will be less inundated by poorly produced beers, and more comfortable taking a gamble on that $15.99 four pack, as the quality of beer at our favorite bars and retailers becomes concentrated, and our beer purchases become more likely to be worthwhile. 

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How to make soil in January
By Autumn Sands, HopCat & BarFly Sustainability Manager | January 1, 2018
Sustainability, Composting

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! If any of your New Year’s resolutions include eating healthier, starting a garden, saving money, getting closer to nature, cutting the amount of trash you send to the landfill, trying to be more “green,” or even all of the above…

Start composting. In winter. In your home.

How? Worms! Red Wigglers to be exact. Worms will literally eat your garbage and turn it into soil. It may sound weird or gross but once you get started you will be amazed at how easy it is. Worms can double in population about every 90 days and can also eat their weight in about 1 day.

Worms love fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, filters, tea leaves, rinsed-off and crushed up eggshells, starchy foods such as bread, oatmeal, rice, and pasta, shredded paper, and yard waste such as fallen leaves and dried grass clippings.

The byproduct “vermicompost” (worm poop) contains more nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium than ordinary soil. It is a natural, beautiful, nutrient-dense delicacy for your plants, and it is made from what used to just be tossed into your garbage.

All that worms need are a breathable container, a little bedding, moisture, oxygen, food, darkness, and warm (but not hot) temperatures. There are a variety of containers that will work, and bedding can be made from shredded newspaper or brown paper bag strips, leaves, dye/chemical- free mulch, or coconut coir.

Here are some links to help you get started. Trust me, it’s worth it. Worm Composting Basics

Red Worm Composting: Getting Started

Worm Composting Headquarters

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Here are the biggest craft beer stories from 2017
By Troy Reimink, BarFly/HopCat Webmaster | December 27, 2017

The end of another year has us a little wistful. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and so on. Before we launch into another big year – during which HopCat will be celebrating its 10th anniversary, by the way – let’s take a look back on some of the biggest headlines from the craft beer world in 2017

Continued growth

Hard to deny it was another solid year for the craft beer industtry. Despite some signs of a slowdown overall, steady growth continued – craft beer for the first time accounted for more than 10 percent of the total beer market in the United States as of 2016, a trend that continued in 2017. In another all-time first, the number of craft breweries in the U.S. topped 6,000. [Paste Magazine]

The Empire strikes back 

The major narrative in our segment of the industry, not surprisingly, is ongoing tension between craft brewers and their macro counterparts. Anheuser-Busch InBev continued its rampage through the craft market. Its most notable acquisition this year was Wicked Weed. This has led to a Resistance against the Empire throughout the galaxy, most visibly through a boycott against so-called “impostor” beer brands. (Hey, we didn’t say these were all happy stories.) [Business Insider

The Brewers Association trade group weighed in over the summer when it introduced a certification label for independent craft brewers. [] Somewhat less seriously, the BA launched the Take Craft Back campaign, a joke effort to raise the $213 billion that would enable craft brewers to buy AB InBev. [Men’s Journal] But it’s encouraging that more restaurants and bars are kicking Big Beer off their tap lists and going all-craft. Not that anyone's keeping score, but we were sort of ahead of this curve. [Washington Post]

Good for the community

An underappreciated aspect of craft brewing is how instrumental it can be in reviving the economies of city neighborhoods and small-towns. A study of the area around HopCat’s birthplace, Grand Rapids, found that breweries here generated an additional $7 million in spending. [Curbed]

Tax breaks, mixed feelings

The final version of the GOP's tax-overhaul bill contains a provision that cuts the tax rate in half for small beer producers. Such welcome tax relief from an otherwise unpopular bill has put a lot of craft brewers – most of whom fall on the progressive side of the political spectrum – in a somewhat uncomfortable position. [Brew Studs

Canning is big business

It’s not exactly breaking news, but more and more craft brewers are selling their beers in cans instead of, or in addition to, bottles. Growth has been steady in this realm since about 2011. But more recent data points to an interesting trend – that smaller, newer breweries have been quicker to embrace the trend than more established ones. [Brewers Association]

Brewers are good people

This was a rough year in a lot of ways, but there were plenty of reminders that the people who make our beer are making the world a better place in other ways, too. Here’s a story about craft breweries in Las Vegas that helped collect donations after the horrific mass shooting at a country music festival. Here’s a story about breweries in Houston raising money to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. Here’s a story about craft breweries organizing fundraising efforts for those affected by the wildfires in California.

So, 2017 might have sucked, but at least there was good beer to get us through it, and good people making it.

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