That’s one new and easy thing for 2020. The rest is not quite so easy.
I have been in touch with young cousins of mine during the last few weeks and they have all expressed the idea that 2020 will likely be a momentous year. Those in Australia are concern about their scorched land and the possible truly dire consequences of additional climate change and their nation’s reliance on coal. British cousins are anxious about Brexit and the economy in which they make their livelihood and wonder if the Irish will renew their civil war. And they ask me about impeachment, re-elections and going to war with Iran.
These are turbulent times and few can be entirely sanguine about 2020.
As a beer consumer however, I am not much worried about the brewing industry and the continued availability of a plentiful supply of splendid beers of all kinds addressing the flavor preferences of most drinkers. Part of the reason for this is that I have always considered the brewing industry to be bullet proof and (as a consumer at least) see no reason to change my mind.
Were I a brewery owner, or otherwise actively engaged in the industry, I might have a slightly different view, because the industry with which I grew up, in which I earned my living for many years and learned to love, has, in fact, changed greatly. It has become much more diverse and the explosion in the number of breweries and products surely means that many are less stable than they need to be. In fact some experts predict 2020 will see a record number of brewery closures and, in the decade to come, a slowing of new openings and a leveling of production volume of craft beers.
Frankly I see that as a sign of stability and maturity. It is not a threat for the serious operator, the well-financed, soundly based, heads-up and thoughtful owner. For them I see continued success. Not all are so well endowed or so well advised.
Another reason I am not much worried about the brewing industry and our continued supply of great beer is the opinion of experts looking ahead. While a few of these opinions are the result of too much education of the wrong kind at expensive colleges and hence more or less incomprehensible, most others have views that span from the far right (conservative) to far left (whacky) of the advisory spectrum. There is a future option to please everyone.
Some see the rather odd way the craft industry has developed over the last decade (as the number of breweries has grown five-fold to over 7,500) continuing. They see a splintered and chaotic marketplace with a plethora of new products. These include those they describe as innovative, some not really beers at all, and beers that are high in alcohol and sour, which I generally call “extreme beers” and for which I see a limited market.
Others eschew such products urging caution with such an approach; they foresee many mergers and acquisition and a changing and, in some ways, a shrinking and more rational marketplace that must be navigated with savvy. For example, some suggest there will be a retreat from distant sales with much more concentration on tap-room sales and sales close to the site of production. This makes sense to me as such an approach has been a tradition of the industry for a very long time.
But there is no doubt that the new decade of maturity and, I hope, stability in the craft industry, will be different from the go-go decade that just closed. As consumers we have nothing to fear though the background against which our favorite beers are made and marketed may very well evolve. I think that evolution will be in favorable directions that are rational and consumer-oriented and driven by quality concerns.
Whistleblowers have been in the news recently. It turns out that the alcohol industry is not immune to such folk. A new agreement between the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Bureau) and the IRS concerns the treatment and reward of whistleblowers who enable the TTB to collect the full value of taxes due.
Beer is subject to Federal taxes based on volume of beer made payable by the manufacturer. For most craft brewers that is $3.50 per barrel on the first 60,000 barrels and $16 on the rest up to 2 million barrels. These rates apply to all but one craft brewer. As there is no American who likes to pay taxes, I assume brewers, along with others subject to Federal taxes, complain regularly about this situation and do all they can to pay only their just and proper share. I am certain that all brewers, without fail, report production numbers that are accurate and properly pay taxes. However, some other players in the alcohol business must be slightly larcenous because, through whistleblowers, the TTB has collected $1.44 billion they might otherwise have missed.
Welcome to this new year and new decade. We live in interesting times. Let us do our best to navigate them with wisdom, patience and generosity.