WINE REVIEW MARCH 2020

IS THE CRAFT BEER CRAZE CRASHING

With probably the best reason all year for lifting a pint, St. Patrick’s Day, in our midst it’s another excuse to take a look at beer in all its iterations as opposed to this column’s usual bent on wine. Beer has experienced astonishing worldwide growth in recent years as a result of the craft beer craze. That craze which has spawned an estimated 10,000 legitimate microbreweries globally has its roots in the remarkable sameness, or less kindly blandness, of the vast production by a scant handful of the planet’s major brewing giants. Take a bow A-B Inbev, Miller SAB and Molson-Coors, the leading international conglomerates brewing a virtual ocean of similar tasting lager beers.

The current quest for more stimulating palate pleasers actually dates back to the 1970’s when artisan brewers in both the U.S. and U.K. began their efforts at commercial production of craft beers. In U.K. a group of small brewers formed the Campaign for Real Ale, CAMRA, and in California some bold entrepreneurs started Sierra Nevada brewery in Sonoma County. Both sparked the almost explosive global rebirth of quality craft beers since the turn of the century. Thailand has had fits and starts in craft beer production thwarted in many cases by bureaucratically imposed hurdles of dubious validity. Unrealistic minimum production requirements and sales restrictions have put craft brewing economically out-of-reach for most Thai entrepreneurs. This protectionist mentality ignores the loss of revenue from sensibly applied domestic taxes not to mention lost employment opportunities accompanying local production. One needs only a quick review of the success of craft brewing in China, Japan and Vietnam to see the folly of restricting it here.

Through the smiles and praise by consumers surrounding the craft beer renaissance questions are being raised as to how long it can last. Indications are that the bloom is definitely off the rose regarding the dramatic increases of the past decade but the market has been firmly established and isn’t going back into the closet. The hefty start-up cost of establishing a viable commercial craft brewery has limited new entries and many existing craft operations have been bought out by the major brewing conglomerates mentioned above. To their credit they have recognized the market and now actively promote and sell limited production beers, much as has happened in the wine industry in which numerous smaller premium wineries have been purchased by major companies.

Testimony to the plethora of craft brands comes from recent changes at one of Bangkok’s most popular dining and drinking establishments, the Roadhouse BBQ. Co-owner and manager Dana Caron recently cut his establishment’s extensive bottled craft beer selection from several dozen to only 18 saying, “Customers can be overwhelmed by too many choices plus the fact that carrying so many brands can pose inventory and storage problems. A sensible alternative for us has been expanding our craft offerings on tap to seven which has proven very popular and much easier to manage.” Dana invites craft beer lovers to try the Roadhouse sample selection and perhaps a pint of Guinness in honor of St. Patrick. Erin Go Bragh!

Written by: R. James Mullen