For a long time, there has been a widespread view that craft beer happily floated along on a higher moral plane, where animosity and cut-throat competition were unknown. You know, “beer people are good people” and all that. However, there have recently been one or two uncomfortable incursions of harsh commercial reality.
Boak & Bailey have reported that some smaller brewers are complaining about the competition provided by “well-funded, trendy” brewers such as Cloudwater. And Matt Curtis has bemoaned that the craft beer market has succumbed to prince competition in a race to the bottom.
I’ve said before that I have little sympathy for brewers who find themselves exposed to the harsh winds of competition. The world doesn’t owe anyone a living and, to succeed, you need to be good at business, not just good at brewing.
And I fail to see how Cloudwater can be considered to be doing anything remotely immoral or underhand. As I said in the comments on Boak & Bailey:
I’m certainly no cheerleader for Cloudwater, but they have built up their reputation through producing well-made, innovative beers that people actually want to drink – surely the recipe for success in the craft beer market. The fact that it was brewed by Cloudwater would make it more likely that I would sample something unusual, simply because I’d be confident they’d done a good job of it.Surely the fact that price competition and discounting have reared their ugly heads is a sign of maturity in the craft beer market – that it is reaching out to sections of the population who would previously only have considered mainstream beers. Every consumer market manages to sustain discount, middle-of-the-road and premium segments, and beer is no exception. Any fears that an outbreak of competition will end up devaluing the quality of high-end craft beers are misplaced. But it may expose more people to different and better beers than otherwise might have been the case.
There seems to be a large element of “tall poppy syndrome” about all of this. I’m not aware that Cloudwater beers are particularly cheap (indeed often the opposite), nor that they are engaging in loss-leading. Competition can be a harsh mistress.