We need to talk about an elephant in the room: newly-opened craft breweries putting out subpar beer.
You only get one first impression. While I have sympathy for brewers finding themselves grossly behind schedule and wildly over-budget, that situation is faced by basically every new brewery. Rushing to put your test batches on tap just to get cash flow might help in the short term, but hurts over time. Patrons shouldn’t drink what should’ve been dumped.
Think about it like a new restaurant. Sure, you expect service hiccups from new personnel, but if the chicken you ordered arrives medium-rare, how much benefit of the doubt are you doling out?
Before anyone gets defensive, this isn’t aimed at any one brewery in particular. It’s just something I’ve noticed over nearly a decade of working in Charlotte’s craft beer scene.
Honestly, the list of Charlotte breweries hitting a homerun on their first at-bat could probably be counted on one hand. And the list of outfits striking out is equally as short.
Take the well-worn cautionary tale of Heist Brewery. When it first opened, the beers didn’t leave the most pleasant taste in the mouths of their patrons. Now, after a personnel change, the brewery is at the forefront of the Queen City craft scene. If everyone had permanently ruled them out on day one, we’d miss out on Cataclysm and Citraquench’l.
We’re in a Golden Age of craft beer: 5,234 outfits were operating nationwide in 2016, more than ever before. Considering the U.S. had just 42 breweries in 1978, having this wealth of options in such short order is staggering.
But each new brewery opening means more competition, and less initial room for error. The grace period a new brewery might’ve once received continues to diminish.
Scaling up recipes up from half-barrel homebrews to 15-barrel production batches takes a lot more than simple multiplication. It’s hard. Initial batches don’t have to be medal-worthy and recipes don’t need to be set in stone, but pouring quality (or even simply passable) product for a grand opening shouldn’t be an impossible task.
Are patrons simply willing to give new breweries a “pass” because they’re hungry for new places to imbibe? Perhaps having a subpar brewery next door is better than no brewery next door. Why are new breweries granted a grace period unlike any other manufacturing industry?
I’m not saying established breweries aren’t capable of their own misfires, but here’s a chief difference: they’re established. They have the benefit of history on their side, and their customers’ preconceived notion of what to expect.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the personal nature of craft beer. Your local brewery isn’t some faceless multinational operation; part of craft beer’s appeal is the opportunity for supporters to directly interact with owners and brewers. Bad batches shouldn’t be met with merciless cruelty, but sparing someone’s feelings instead of simply providing honest feedback isn’t helping anyone.
Ultimately, having an educated populace only goes so far. The onus should be on brewers to ensure their products are presented as intended, free of off-flavors or defects. Sure, dumping a bad batch isn’t cheap, but what’s the long-term cost of a damaged reputation?
If opening at your full capability isn’t an option, if you’re already grossly over budget and cannot afford to sink thousands on to-be-trashed test batches, then what? Simply put: get better quickly, or kindly get out of the way.
If you’re capable of making quality beer from day one, I fully believe you should. If you’re not, please consider postponing that first day for as long as it takes to get things right.