You sit down in a stuffy fluorescent-lit meeting room at an Ikea table across from one or two professionally dressed individuals. They scrutinize a piece of paper you have provided to them as it is their job to decide whether you qualify to work for their business. Questions are thrown at you, “Why are you the best fit?” and, “What is your largest strength? and weakness?” Sooner or later, after a few impressed side glances at one another and a “Oh very nice, good,” response they ask, “So, what is your five-year plan?”
The five-year plan. The one thousand eight hundred- and twenty-five-day plan. Is that a fair question? Depending on the context maybe, but also in today’s day and age strikes me personally as being nearly pointless and should serve only to gain a greater understanding of someone’s motives and desires at best. A five-year plan? In an interview you don’t want to say, “Get as much money from you so I may live a comfortable life outside this life-zapping occupation.” You want to say, “Succeed in this position so that this company and I can thrive and grow.” But a masked response, like the question, “What is your five-year plan?” The person posing the question more times than not could care less about what you want to have accomplished in the next five years. How does this fit into the craft beer industry you ask?
What is the craft beer industry’s five-year plan? Is that a fair question? Is that a question that can be answered? Should it be answered? Does it matter? To answer these questions let’s look back ten years and see what the state of craft beer was and what happened 5 years after that. I would look back only five years and evaluate what occurred in those last five years, but, this global pandemic thing would override almost everything and while I will touch on that and how it will affect the next five to ten years, it’s not fair to only look at this time period. So, strap in and hold tight, we are going to the year 2012!
Whoa, 2012! The Avengers came out and that’s cool. The Summer Olympics in London was nice with Michael Phelps becoming the most decorated Olympian of all time (bet that dude never falters in public perception). The Mayan calendar came to an end, but we are all still here. But what about craft beer? El Dorado hops are a new thing and hard to get and IPA’s are all the rage. Saisons and Wheat beers are popular as well for those with a palette not too keen on hops. In Sacramento, breweries high in everyone’s mind are: Ruhstaller, River City, Track 7, American River, Rubicon, Hoppy Brewing Company. Most of these breweries now are no longer in business these ten years later. Breweries Device and New Glory were still a year away with many more now set-in-stone Sacramento institutions a glimmer in the city’s eye. So, what was the five-year plan in 2012? MORE!
It was simply more more more. Not just in Sacramento but across the nation, more craft beer was the plan for the foreseeable future and thus for 5 years. This isn’t too surprising. There was a growing demand for the product of craft beer and four years removed from the great recession, jobs were in demand too. This was the year that in Sacramento, Rubicon Brewing opened a production facility in West Sacramento which was a huge move for the local favorite. If you sat down with the collective craft beer industry in the year 2012 and asked for a five-year plan, a relatively small wide-eyed industry that was full of potential would have said, “I plan to double in size and gain respect with notability in the overall alcohol industry.” So, what happened? Let’s jump to 2017.
The craft brewery industry didn’t double, it exploded. Notable breweries in the Sacramento area like Device, Moonraker, New Glory and Crooked Lane were on the scene along with some breweries that were not long for this world. While craft beer had exploded, it took stragglers down. Rubicon went out of business in 2017 and the owner at the time said, “Sacramento’s beer bubble is bursting.” This as we see five years later just isn’t true and are words spoken by a defeated business owner who unfortunately could not keep up. Is this harsh to say? I don’t think so, overexpansion a bit too early, tied to lack of variety and… deep breath here for emphasis… lack of an air conditioning unit in Sacramento California all led to their downfall. In their place, Alaro brewing popped up and is now successful because it is not overexpanding, has variety and… deep breath… has air conditioning! Dragas Brewing also closed but just like with Rubicon, a much more successful brewery opened in its place in the form of Moksa Brewing.
What happened in five years all around the country from 2012 to 2017 was exactly what could have been assumed in 2012: More. With this growth the breweries that failed to keep up with beer trends, having variety or just overall less than stellar business acumen fell by the wayside as newer breweries took up the market space. This is for several reasons but mostly because these new breweries were starting trends that the other breweries were either unfit to align with or too proud to do. I wrote about craft breweries failing to try and make craft seltzers before while comparing the attitude to brewers refusing to make sour or hazy beers, and this is why. Breweries with owners and brewers that refused to hop on the “IPA wagon” are long forgotten and those refusing to make hazy beers will be forgotten as well. Many of them failed during this time.
So 2017, what is your five-year plan, craft brewery industry? How could this even begin to be answered as a whole? It couldn’t be. The industry had just seen exponential growth that caused some long standing industry professionals to believe the craft beer bubble was fit to burst. At the same time you have people newly emerging into the industry with the opposite view. This means there will be either multiple answers or one that is complex. You already know I’m going to get all complex up in this bitch.
The plan would be to continue to grow but keep a keen eye on the market trends. While growth is still very much possible, do so with a fall back plan if the market shifts and don’t put all eggs in one basket. Grow and do not fall into stagnation because stagnation will not bring in new customers. It will not keep true enthusiasts happy. It would be smart to keep what works and build on it. Capture lightning in a bottle and sell it, which means if a style comes into popularity roll with it and add your spin if possible.
So 2022, five years removed from 2017. The industry made it through and those who stuck with the five-year plan succeeded. Mostly. What happened in five years and a pandemic was solidification of the overall industry. Craft beer is here to stay and IPA is king. Any kind of IPA: hazy, double, black, imperial whatever, if it is an IPA people are buying. Sour beer is bigger as well, but so is every style of craft beer. More and more money is flowing in the industry and more and more breweries are expanding, while more pop up seemingly every day. The individual with the thought that the bubble was bursting in 2017, now in 2022 is forced to see that it was far from it and that they simply didn’t keep up. How about the question of the five-year plan? I’ll save you my breakdown by saying it was a dumb question to ask in 2017. Sure a pandemic didn’t help the following years but this is an industry that has seen such exponential growth and so many trends and changes in the last decade that asking a question of what’s your plan for the next five years is as ridiculous as asking a sixteen year old what they want to do with their career and future. There is so much that is going to change without warning, and by the nature of the industry these brewing companies must stay malleable in order to ebb and flow, yet stay rigid enough in the hyper-competitive industry to hold its own, that asking what will be happening in 5 years and have an accurate answer is juvenile.
I however believe now in 2022, it is a good question to ask all the same. Because where do breweries plan to go from here? How do new breweries expect to emerge and hold their own today? By asking for a five-year plan we can hope that the industry would look at history and make changes and choices that will make 2027 in comparison to 2022 that much greater, just as 2017 improved off of 2012. What is a five-year plan if not simply the expectation of greatness? We have reached somewhat of a plateau, all things considered, with fewer breweries opening and only a few closing. So what is any given brewery’s five-year plan? The answer isn’t as important as the question, and that’s my point of this entire rambling jumble jamble of words.
If you are in the industry poised to shape it, ask the question of yourself and look back in order to determine what is realistic and shoot for the goal. However you answer the question, the vague answer will be, “Get better.” But not asking the question at all may mean stagnation. Ask the question, answer it or not, and keep an eye forward. It’s just too bad that when asked for a five-year plan in an interview you can’t refuse to answer and explain that you generally want to grow and gain more recognition, but looking at the last five years that may not be realistic – but you will not get worse.