The Problem with "Craft" Beer

89924600169Living in Pennsylvania the omnipresence of Yuengling Traditional Lager is expected. Pennsylvania residents need to go far and wide to the most purist of craft beer bars to avoid finding “lager” on tap or in bottle. While normally I enjoy the comfort of knowing that regardless of the establishment I can avoid have to consumer Budweiser, Coors, or one of their many derivatives in favor of the “oldest brewery in America”[1] there is always a darker side of the world of beer that isn’t one of the big two but certainly isn’t craft beer.

This March Yuengling returned to Massachusetts markets after having retreated for about twenty years. Craft beer message boards are often filled with eager craft beer enthusiasts from other parts of America eager to get their hands on a six-pack of one America’s more flavorful mass market lagers craft beer competitors are feeling the sting of Yuengling’s triumphant return.

The Boston Globe is reporting that many craft brewers are seeing their sales go soft after the return on Yuengling to the state. The power of marketing and distribution deals on a state-wide level is something that most craft brewers just cannot hope to contend with.

Part of its revered status among beer drinkers is that history — it remains an American-owned, family run business. But its limited availability, largely the Middle Atlantic and Southeastern states, has also fueled a thirst for it among beer fans who can’t easily get their hands around a pint.

And while being a family owner American company with a lager that puts Budweiser and Coors to shame is a great thing, the market force is something to be concerned with.

Already local craft brewers have been pushed out of several bars by Yuengling. Notch Brewing in Ipswich lost one of its best customers and several others when Yuengling arrived in March.

“We’re trying to see how this all shakes out,” said Notch Brewing founder Chris Lohring. “There’s only so many tap handles.”

The scarcity of tap handles is vital. Most craft brewers aren’t able to work out deals for tap exclusivity. Most bars have taps dedicated to the big market beers and maybe a tap or two that switch between craft beer brands. If Yuengling manages to secure those taps for its own products that may exclude craft beer at a location permanently.

Yet most brewers are hopeful that the polyandrous nature of beer drinkers mean that all the Yuengling love will wane with time as people look for the next great thing.

Brooklyn Brewery president Steve Hindy isn’t taking the new competitors resounding success laying down. After losing a line a sports bar in South Boston he replied, “Well, I’m determined to go out and grab a Yuengling line today. How about that?”

Good luck Steve Hindy, I think Pennsylvania breweries like Troegs or Yards could give you some insight into the difficult battle it can be to compete with someone of Yuengling’s size with such a huge cult following. While my hometown pride of course loves that Yuengling is a step above the bottom of the barrel and doing well I would prefer a market saturated with the vast array of real craft beer over turning Yuengling into the next MillerCoors.

- - - - - - 1. The marketing material isn’t exactly super clear on what this claim is. Yuengling is the oldest brewery in continuous operation in America. There were of course older breweries but prohibition *destroyed* almost all breweries in America and Yuengling was one of the few that managed to survive Prohibition and continue brewing until today. [ ↩](#fnref:1 "return to article")