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Monday, March 07, 2016

How Do New Breweries Break Through?

I finally got around to reading the new Willamette Week Beer Guide over the weekend, and one thing really jumped out at me. There are so many new breweries. A lot of them are in places that heretofore have been under-served, like Southwest Washington and the areas west of the Willamette River. That makes sense and is what you'd expect as the market matures.

Names rolled by: Ancestry (Tualatin), Awesome Ales (gypsy), BackPedal, Brewed by Gnomes (another gypsy), Drinking Horse (Clackamas)--and that's just through "D." There are a few fanatics out there who manage to keep track of every new brewery opening, but beyond them, who will have heard of these? As I read the descriptions, I was reminded that I'd heard of some of them--BackPedal in this list--but that actually made the sense of dislocation even greater. The brainpan can contain only so much information, and then new info just flows out of my ears to be lost forever. It's not enough to catch my attention, you have to keep it--which is harder and harder with so many new places opening up.

One of the 198 breweries in Oregon struggling
for your attention. |  Source

Each year, a few high-profile breweries will open, and we'll all be aware of them. Fat Head's and 10 Barrel recently opened new multimillion dollar brewpubs in the Pearl, and it was hard to miss those. But these smaller breweries, the kind that even five years ago might have been rare enough to attract our curiosity? They are having a harder time. The annual OLCC numbers were recently released (more on that coming up), and it listed 198 Oregon breweries that sold beer in 2015. The bottom half sold just 17,816 barrels--a bit less than 3% of all the beer sold in Oregon. The bottom 25% of the breweries sold 2,533 barrels--a few barrels more than Gigantic sold and .4% of all the beer sold in Oregon. Some of those just opened, and some are side-projects and nanobreweries. But many are not.

If you're opening a brewery in 2016, you're going to have to compete with 198 breweries in the state--not just the beer they make and the shelf space and tap handles they already own, but the mental space they occupy among the overflowing brains of beer drinkers. I'm still very bullish on the prospect of beer and brewing, and I think opening a new brewery with a clear identity, great products, and (in the case of brewpubs) a great space is a great investment. But you better have a clear identity and great products, because getting brainspace is harder and harder to pull off.

1 comment:

  1. One way to break through: don't name your brewery "Rat Hole"