Brewers of PA’s annual hi-profile Meeting of the Malts event attracted a crowd of about 500 for a discussion of the beer biz at the Arts Quest Center at Steelstacks in Bethlehem last night. New kind of industry event (and assn fundraiser) brought consumers and industry members together in cool, modern space with commanding steel “sculptures” as backdrop outside. (They are imposing relics of bygone Age of Steel). Consultant Bump Williams moderated a panel of beer heavyweights including Yuengling prexy Dick Yuengling, Boston Beer chairman Jim Koch, Firestone Walker co-founder David Walker, plus Left Hand’s co-founder Eric Wallace. Audience a mix of consumers, craft brewers, journalists, politicians and distribs. Distribs from several surrounding states attended, perhaps hoping that they might be next to get Yuengling brand.
Leave it to Left Hand’s Eric (smallest player in bunch) to come up with the catchiest quote: “A reckoning is coming,” he said, adding sharply “if you’re not running a good business, you’re f—d” and admonishing craft brewers and even distribs to “get your act together.” Editor’s note: Eric’s comment one of several strong quotes this week that ratcheted up rhetoric about next phase for craft. In North Carolina, Old Mecklenburg founder John Marrino talked of “coming trainwreck.” And Brooklyn CEO Eric Ottaway told us: “No question there is a shakeout in craft happening at every level.” Strong words.
Yet this incredible proliferation of craft brewers is “good for the consumer” and good for beer biz, said Jim at press conference prior to panel. Larger craft brewers should “embrace” and “accept” this phenom. “Our job is to make it good for us…. And if we can’t do that, shame on us.” Yuengling prexy Dick Yuengling thinks it’s “great” for consumers that this trend “getting people off the national brands,” tho he doesn’t like that big brewers now buying up small brewers. “We’re fine,” he told audience later. Yuengling “down a little” in barrelage, but “we’ll be back.” Yuengling just entered its 20th state Indiana and redesigned its package for first time in decades. Boston chairman Jim said that of craft brewers around back when he started in ’84, only he and Sierra founder Ken Grossman are still around. Eric talked about near 400 craft brewers in Colo now, compared to about 30 when he started 23 yrs ago and how that “forced everybody to get better.”