Please stop being timid and apologetic. Please stop brewing “crossover” beers. Please stop trying to engage a portion of the beer-drinking population that will never drink your beers. Please take more chances. Please make the beers that you want to brew. Please focus on quality and creativity.
BC craft brewers, you have been needlessly kowtowing to the masses for far too long. There have been brewpubs and craft breweries in the province for nearly 30 years now, and it’s just recently that full-flavoured styles such as India Pale Ale have become relatively common. In your efforts to please everyone and “convert” Lucky drinkers to craft beer with featureless, unobtrusive ales and equally unremarkable lagers, you have missed the opportunity to convince the roughly 10 percent of the population who are truly receptive to craft beer that you have something remarkable to offer.
When Sierra Nevada founders Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi brewed and released their now legendary Pale Ale in 1980, nobody in the U.S. was clamouring for a well-hopped pale ale. Bitterness in beer was considered a bad thing by most Americans. But by having faith in the quality of their product, they started converting people one drinker at a time. They didn’t start out making a "cream ale" or a "lightly hopped amber" so as not to discourage Bud drinkers. They put out a well-made flavourful beer and let the people who were receptive to it hop aboard. And if Miller Lite drinkers didn’t like it, well, Grossman and Camusi weren’t going to change their minds anyway.
The craft beer movement in the U.S. was founded on the idea of creativity—taking traditional European styles and reinterpreting them. U.S. brewers (and craft brewers around the world) continue to try new things and blur the lines between traditional styles. The possibilities are endless! New categories of beer are literally created annually for judging at the Great American Beer Festival.
BC craft brewers, you need to lead, not follow. Introduce people to new styles and bold flavours. Stand behind them and be proud of them. It’s even more vital that you do this now as U.S. craft beer continues to cross the border in greater and greater quantities. U.S. craft beer exports were up 28 percent in 2010 and Canada was one of the top three markets (along with Sweden and the UK) for that beer.
As a result, BC’s craft-beer drinkers are more sophisticated than ever, so don’t be afraid to challenge them. Ignore the segment of the population that wants its mass-produced pale lagers. They are not your market and most never will be. Focus on, and please, the eager consumers who want to expand their palates and constantly try new stuff. Those are your people. They are bloggers, writers, CAMRA members, festival organizers and outspoken advocates for something they love. Take care of them and you’ll ultimately be rewarded.