So far, however, it hasn’t. But there appear to be a growing number of straws in the wind. I‘m hearing reports of brewers trying to undercut others with what appear to be suicidal discounts. Some are even apparently willing to sell “off-invoice” and thus incur no VAT or duty. It’s becoming increasingly clear that some are feeling the pressure.
Another factor is that not all brewers have the same expectation of their business. I was recently taken to task in the comments on another blog for referring to “hobby brewers”, but it’s an entirely legitimate term. Some microbrewers are retired and thus already have a source of income. Others have taken up brewing while continuing to do a “day job”, although they might hope to turn full-time eventually. And a few give the impression of doing it with daddy’s money.
This does not mean in any sense that they take their beer less seriously, and indeed in some cases it may give them the opportunity to brew more interesting beers with unusual and expensive ingredients. But it does mean that they’re not necessarily driven by the need to make a living out of their business, and at times can afford to undercut their competitors. This competition may be understandably galling for brewers who are looking to make a living out of it.
Eventually the bubble will burst, as there’s only so long anyone can put up with brewing being an unremunerative labour of love. The fallout may be messy, but at least it will give the serious brewers a better chance of long-term viability. And the objective of any brewer must be to get their beers into pubs and bars as a regular fixture, rather than depending on fickle trade from guest spots and beer festivals.
Likewise, buying lower-quality beer just because it’s cheap is not a good business strategy for pubs. Drinkers don’t want to be ripped off, but neither are they willing to sacrifice quality for price. People aren’t going to continue drinking indifferent beer solely because it’s cheap. Small-scale brewing will always be highly competitive, but there’s no reason why it can’t provide good brewers who also have a knack for business with a reasonable living.
Possibly, of course, this tendency is also a consequence of many independently-run pubs finding life a struggle and thus doing everything they can to reduce their costs.