Monday, September 20, 2010

Beer distribution, a final thought from St. Cloud

Well folks, here's my final post from St. Cloud, MN. On Thursday my wife and I will be moving to Mason City, IA. Once there I hope to keep going with the blog on a more regular basis and continue to try and introduce more food and non-beer beverage posts. But first I want to get my head and hands around what's available in IA, which got me thinking about distribution of beer. So here's one last post about beer. I'll have something in a few weeks about where you can find me.

Boston Beer Company and Sierra Nevada are the two largest craft brewers in the country, and the only two craft brewers with 100% U.S. distribution. New Belgium and Spoeztl are next in size, both of whom have large distribution that are in no way "regional". There are a good number of regional or semi-regional brews up high on the list, companies with 8-12 state distributions, but New Glarus (#22 craft, #32 overall) is the only small footprint beer that gets anywhere near the top.

So my question is, if a brewer wants to be truly widely recognized and considered a big player in beer, do they (or will they soon) have to be a nearly nationally available brand? I mean of course there will always be room for regionals, there are beers that will only do good in a certain region and brewers who just don't want to spread themselves out that much. But are we getting to a point where brewers who want to go big will have to cover everywhere? How long before not just the top 2, but the top 10 or 15 brewers will have 100% national coverage? Do people think that's a good thing? A bad thing? Nothing?

And in addition to that, what will that mean for beer selection at non-beer bars? Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada are pretty easy to come across, even in more rural areas, will we eventually stumble across Deschutes, Bells or Stone in the same way?

Would that allow (or could it be pushed by) a company dedicated to transporting beer a long way? Essentially work the same system Budweiser works, moving large volumes long distances to reduce unit costs, a fact that some brewers (read Craft Brewers Alliance) have taken advantage of to get their beer out there (CBA is #8 overall brewery). Could someone start a beer trucking service specifically to contract distribute craft beers?

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