If you’re looking to expand your beer horizons, you may have to travel no further than your local bar. Chances are, among its dim, worn dining room and liquor-stocked counter lies an expansive selection of craft beers. Boasting names such as Boulder Hazed & Infused Dry-Hopped Ale, Ithaca Flower Power IPA, and Troegs Mad Elf, these brews easily distinguish themselves from the familiar look and taste of Coors or Bud.
The Brewers Association, a non-profit trade organization dedicated to craft beer, characterizes craft breweries as those that are small, independent, and traditional. Over the past several years, the Boston craft beer scene has rapidly expanded, consistently defying the struggling economy by focusing on innovation, quality, and consumer consciousness.
Yet, the growth of the craft beer industry continues to face a major obstacle. Between the thousands of varieties offered and a perceived air of exclusivity, craft beer can easily scare newcomers away.
“There’s a lot of different craft beer out there, there’s a lot of styles,” said Joshua Dion, whose craft beer focused-blog, Lost in the Beer Aisle, turns five this year.
“If all you’ve drank is a Bud Light or a Coors Light…it can be intimidating to be like, what, where do I even start?”
Jeremy Krantz, author of the blog Craft Beer Boston, agrees that the expansive selection of craft beer available to consumers can overwhelm potential customers. However, he stresses a slightly different hurdle that craft beer will soon have to overcome if it wants to survive in today’s market.
“Never at any point in history have so many different beers and styles been available,” said Krantz. “Massachusetts has some excellent craft beer…but due to their limited distribution, a lot of them have failed to get past New England.
“Growth and distribution are probably the biggest challenges that breweries face.”
Despite Krantz’s assessment, the popularity of craft beer around the country continues to expand. According to the Brewers Association, the craft beer industry has grown an average of 10.9 percent annually for the past decade.
Suzanne Schalow has witnessed this growth firsthand. In 2010, she opened Craft Beer Cellar with her business partner, Kate Baker, after years in the restaurant business together. Schalow and Baker hope to cater to the same demographic that Dion targets with his blog and meet-ups.
“We wanted to create a store that we wanted to shop at,” said Schalow.
“We set out on a journey to make craft beer more accessible to the average person…Let’s face it – all we had known as a society was the stuff we had seen on television commercials and print ads.”
Schalow admits that working with craft beer is no easy task, but she has begun breaking down barriers and reaching far past the traditional craft beer scene. She and Baker can now boast stores in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Florida, and Vermont, with two in Missouri on the way – all potential markets for the 2,768 craft breweries operating in the United States as of 2013.
Ironically, as iconically American as beer may seem, the craft beer industry thrives by avoiding the principles that traditionally characterize capitalism. Competition doesn’t drive craft beer sales; collaboration and consideration do.
Heather Schold contends that these qualities are what make the craft beer industry stand out. Now the organizer of the Boston Globe Travel Show’s craft beer pavilions, Schold previously dealt in wine and spirits and has found that the two industries cannot be compared.
“For me, the appeal of craft beer is the community that exists in the industry,” said Schold.
“Here, it is not about huge marketing dollars just trying to sell bottles, it is about loving the craft itself, working to create solid, quality products but still managing to make something a bit different.
“Craft beer is about the people almost as much as it is the beer.”
No matter what part of the industry they come from, most people involved with craft beer agree on one thing: craft beer has something for everyone.
Dion admits that when he first began experimenting with craft beer, he ran into patronizing “beer cliques” that almost deterred him from the scene. Yet, he soon realized that those few individuals did not represent the majority of people involved with craft beer.
Despite his initial introduction, Dion now views the craft beer scene as completely open to all, no matter what a person’s previous experience with craft beer is. His motto, “never take beer or life too seriously,” illustrates his belief that beer is meant to be enjoyed. Though some may take offense to his nonchalant approach, Dion’s doesn’t let that bother him.
Instead, he’s too busy having fun and drinking beer, sharing his passion with those as determined as he is to keep this budding industry alive.