I am a huge fan of Will Meyers and the beers he brews at the Cambridge Brewing Company. He’s one of the best brewers in New England and one of the nicest guys I’ve met since I started writing about beer about seven years ago.
I’m also a big fan of the beers from Notch Brewing, as well as Slumbrew, Offshore and a host of other companies that contract brew, and that’s why I can’t agree with Meyers in his latest blog on the Cambridge Brewing Company Web site.
In the blog, “What does 20 mean?” Meyers writes about many subjects, including some of his concerns about the huge growth in the number of breweries that is taking place across the country. I share some of these concerns, particularly about how low quality “craft” beers can have on the whole craft beer industry.
But, he then he moves on to contract brewers. Here is an excerpt from the blog (you can read it all by clicking here):
“This includes the inevitable number of beer marketing companies, aka contract brewers (a few of whom call themselves “gypsy brewers”), who either feel that there’s money to be made in this fad or who genuinely love craft beer but don’t want to invest the capital in their own brick and mortar breweries. This lack of skin in the game shows me that they value short term gains over long term personal investment and hard work. And I truly believe that there is no such thing as a gypsy brewer. In fact I know of only one couple, our friends at Pretty Things, who “reside” at another brewery but who actively create every drop of their own beer, each and every brewday. There’s a big difference between having that level of commitment and integrity, and claiming to be a “gypsy” because you occasionally show up at a brewery on days your beer is being made for you. If you’re not there, every time, doing it entirely yourself and if there are other people physically making your beer for you (sometimes in your absence), you’re simply not a brewer in my book. It’s more than just cutting open some bags of grain or making a ceremonious addition of hops or cacao nibs or some other exotic ingredient and Tweeting about it. I’m sorry if that offends some folks, but this is something that our industry – producers, retailers, consumers, everybody – will need to struggle with as time goes on.”
I’ve dealt with many contract brewers over the years – some brewed at Mercury Brewing Company (aka Ipswich), others at Paper City and Shipyard in Maine – and they take great pride in the beers that they have helped to develop.
As a consumer, it’s about the beer for me. If a beer is good I’m going to drink it. I drink Cambridge Brewing Company beers because I enjoy them. I drink Slumbrew beers because I enjoy them. I’ve had beers brewed by those who have “skin in the game,” and own their own breweries that I would classify as horrendous beers. I rather drink a contract brew than many of those brewed by “real” breweries.
Jeff Leiter, owner of the Somerville Brewing Company (aka Slumbrew) posted a response (available by clicking here).
In his blog, Leiter said he believes that the negativity is due to established brewers feeling the pinch from more competition.
“When the entire segment of craft beer is only approaching 7% of the US beer market, it’s almost absurd to describe other folks in the industry as a threat. Sadly, other brewers internalize the presence of other brands in their local area or the arrival of new brands by people that did not chose the same career lifestyle 20 years ago as an attack on their “brewer” sovereignty. And so, instead of stepping up to lead in a time of exciting expansion, they resort to embarrassing public infighting and attacking members of their own industry.”
Leiter also addresses Meyers assertion that “contract brewers are less genuine versions of a true brewer.”
“Some of this is being played out with the recent, yet perennial debate over contract brewing. The latest thinking goes that contract brewers are less genuine versions of a true brewer and are merely engaged in covering up mediocre beer with marketing shtick. A simple beer marketing company has a lack of ‘skin in the game’ over brick and mortar breweries, and don’t want to invest their own capital. As one of the leading grandstanders of this position recently said, ‘This lack of skin in the game shows me that they value short term gains over long term personal investment and hard work.’ Although I will never question the integrity of those who choose to earn a paycheck over setting out on their own, the irony of this coming from someone who achieved their entire status in the brewing world as an employee is overwhelming. It’s also astounding to call other brewing businesses as disingenuous for their lack of capital resources from the safety of a weekly paycheck and staff payroll/equipment financed by someone else. Although, we at Somerville Brewing currently rely on what is technically defined as a contract brewing relationship, it’s downright laughable to think we have neglected to smack down any skin for the “game”. From the personal guarantees and cash outlays to achieve our float of over 1,000 kegs in the market, to the near 90 hour work weeks we spend building our business without a paycheck every Friday – it’s a story that resonates all too well for anyone starting a business in craft beer.”
I think brewers, either those who brew at their own facilities, those who brew at other facilities or those who are contract brewers, should worry about their own beer. Make it good, and beer lovers will seek it out. Craft beer drinkers are smart – we will support the good ones, and those that are sub par will disappear from the shelf.