‘State of the union’ – how is the craft beer business doing?

Welcome to the final issue of SBR in 2018! Usually, the last issue of the year is our annual ‘Craft Beer Theme Issue’, but this year not so much so. The ‘balance’ between articles relevant for readers representing, on one hand, the bigger mainstream lager breweries and, on the other, the craft segment of our readers is not much different from the previous three 2018 issues.

In other words, articles with mixed focus on various segments of the brewing industry.  This is, however, not a deliberate choice but simply a consequence of the availability of articles of sufficient quality for publishing in the SBR. My work as your technical editor for about 8 years now has, as also explained in my editorials from time to time, been guided by my wish to have this balance reflect the more and more varied background – and, as the logical assumption would be, thereby the interests – of our readers. But, in order for me to actively control the balance of the selection of articles we bring you, a sufficient amount of material for articles must be available, allowing me to select some and reject others. This has, at times, been the case, but mostly not:

The difficulties with sourcing enough relevant and interesting articles from our region have been increasing over the past few years. And I trust that you, dear reader, will agree with me that this is not because I have neglected to encourage you to help me in this respect. But my calls for active participation from the readers of the SBR have been mostly in vain. Nevertheless, we put out the latest call for participation – becoming a ‘correspondent’ for the SBR, as we call it – once more in this issue. Perhaps this insistent repetition will make it clear that we are serious… Never give up the hope!

As reported in the two latest editorials, we – the owners and the responsible editors – have consequently decided to launch a campaign with the purpose of getting a large and diverse group of correspondents on board. We intend to direct our call for contributions not only to you, our readers, but we’ll also direct it straight to selected brewers, all breweries in our region, our advertisers, the official ‘bodies’ within our industry – the brewers’ associations, the Master Brewers’ guilds, Brewers of Europe and the Scandinavian School of Brewing – and all other companies and institutions that are involved with our industry. But this work has not yet been completed, so we still have reason to hope for a positive change with respect to the availability of material for the SBR. Both as regards the regular issues of the magazine as well as for the upgraded website, which we still intend to make the ‘must-go-to’ vibrant and up-to-date forum of all things beer and brewing in the Nordic and Baltic regions.

One thing, though, is as it always is: My final editorial of the year takes a subjective look at the year that we’re almost through with a specific focus on the craft beer segment of the brewing industry in our region. However, there are some very significant overall trends appearing at this time in our universe that I’ve chosen – in order to limit the length of this editorial – to look at a bit more in depth in a separate article, ‘State of the Union II – A further look at some trends’, written as my contribution to the debate on these issues.

2018 has, as always, been a year with a plethora of events and news from and about our industry. Some positive, some negative. And, apart from the topics already covered in the three preceding 2018 issues of the SBR, let me quickly sketch out those that I find the most significant.

Sadly, the main headline as far as our industry is concerned is not a positive one: Sales of beer are again flat or even dropping in the region – and in the entire western world, for that matter. The feelings of optimism sparked by the encouraging beer sales during our extremely long, warm and sunny summer have again given way to a somewhat realistic pessimism. We are still under pressure from factors that are all pushing beer sales in the wrong direction: A general ‘climate’ that increasingly treats beer – or alcohol in general – as a threat to our health and to society at large, political pressure that increases beer taxation and limits the possibilities to advertise and reach the consumer, and ever-increasing competition from other alcoholic drinks such as RTDs, wine and spirits. Not to mention the threat of recreational cannabis products that may be legalized very soon. As if these negative influences were not enough, we have – believe it or not – also started a fierce debate, bordering on and perhaps developing into a war, amongst ourselves, threatening to destroy the consumer’s perception of the craft beer universe as alternative, friendly and open.  

For more analysis and debate on some of these topics, I refer to my article in this issue called the ‘State of the Union II – A further look at some trends’.    

When looking into the future for craft beer in the Nordic region, I always, as you know, look to the USA, as it seems, almost without exception, that we’ll, in a few years, see here what is happening there right now. And, if so, the outlook is not positive! ‘Over There’, the retail shops are rather drastically reducing the number of craft beer SKUs (stock-keeping units), and the world’s dominating brewer, AB InBev (formally a Belgian company, I know), is struggling unsuccessfully to meet its targets as far as earnings go after the ‘mega-merger’ in 2016. 

Legal cannabis for recreational purposes is spreading like a wildfire in North America, and, although it’s still too early to say anything definitive about the effects of this on beer sales, the indications thus far are definitely not positive. 

The seemingly innocent initiative ‘The Independent Craft Brewer Seal’, launched by the Brewers Association a year or two ago, and followed by the extremely aggressive social media shitstorms whenever a craft brewer has been taken over by the one of the big guys, has fundamentally changed the image and overall perception of the craft beer world.  To the extent that a group of the major business players, including the National Beer Wholesalers Association, has given it a name, ‘Beer Shaming’, and called for a stop to it. They would probably not have done this out of idealism if it was good for business!

More about these challenges and worries in ‘State of the Union II – A further look at some trends’.    

After all this lamenting, we need to finish on a positive note! At a meeting in the group of ‘Small and Medium-sized Breweries’ (SMB) of the Danish Brewers’ Association in late November, the representative for Mikkeller announced an opening of its geeky, but very popular, especially amongst tourists, ‘Mikkeller Copenhagen Beer Celebration’ in May. The proposed opening would involve inviting all other Danish (and perhaps beyond…?) breweries to come onboard, expanding the event into a ‘Copenhagen Beer Week’ and deleting the Mikkeller name from the event. This invitation and idea was very positively received by the members, including the representatives for Carlsberg’s Jacobsen brewery and Royal Unibrew’s Theodor Schiøtz Brewing Co. (the undersigned, with another of my hats on!). And the latter two committed themselves to devoting some of their significant muscles in the form of expertise and money to support the realization of this idea.

Please remember that we at the SBR always very strongly encourage you to comment on anything you wish to comment on in the magazine, but obviously particularly to the editorial. May I remind you that this request this time is more critical than ever! 

Please forward your comments to anders@kissmeyer.dk.


Anders Kissmeyer. Technical Editor.
Scandinavian Brewer’s Review