On Thursday, October 22, 2015, Saint Benjamin Brewing Company, located in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, opened its doors to the craft brew public for a panel discussion on “The State of Craft Beer,” part of the week long “Brooklyn Brewery Mash” event. The Panel included Brooklyn Brewing chairman and co-founder Steve Hindy, Dogfish Head Brewing founder and president Sam Calagione, co-founder and co-brewmaster of Victory Brewing Company and current president of Brewers of Pennsylvania, Bill Covaleski, Saint Benjamin Brewing owners Tim Patton and Christina Burris, and John Holl, editor of All About Beer Magazine.
The Panel began its discussion with the ever-popular question, “with over 4000 craft breweries now in operation in the U.S., are there too many?” The Panel unanimously agreed that there is room for many more than 4000; in fact, Hindy suggested that the proportion of breweries to population is still significantly lower than it was prior to Prohibition. Calagione warned however that in order for craft breweries to be sustainable they must make a quality product, be consistent, and be well-differentiated within the market.
The Panel members also talked about their concerns with the AB InBev takeover of SABMiller. They viewed it as a move to obtain more leverage in distribution and shelf space to push out small, local craft beer. In a small moment of debate, Burris explained that the way to avoid some of the mega-brew pressure is to self-distribute, despite the incredible amount of work that entails; however Hindy predicted that Saint Benjamin would be in distributors within 18 months. Covaleski further showed, using charts, that there is a widening gap between the increasing number of brewers (4200) and the decreasing number of wholesalers (1500), putting shelf space decisions in the hands of a few.
The discussion was lively, and as always, friendly. The evening reinforced once again how the craft brew industry is a collaborative one; where in other segments the panel members would view each other as direct competitors, it was clear that these brewers view themselves as partners in a movement to improve the state of American beer.