Have Beer Weeks Grown Too Big?
I have this tradition. Every year, for San Francisco Beer Week, I work a preposterous amount of hours, have very little fun, and then get wildly ill for several days. It's terrible, and I love it. Here's why: beer weeks are great for the industry.
They increase the visibility of craft beer, generate business for (often) small, local businesses, and allow for benefits within every subsection of the industry. Brewers and importers get exposure, an opportunity for direct fan interaction, and a platform to showcase and get feedback on experimental products. Retailers get a boost in business and the chance to impress customers for future return visits. And consumers have it best of all—they get to taste as many new beers as their livers can handle at exciting, novel events, often with the people that made the beers themselves. But with 500+ official events, is there an element of diminishing returns? At what point does further growth inhibit the good that can come from these spectacles? I've been thinking a lot about this issue lately.
Rapid growth introduces at least one concerning element to all of this: hype. With the fanfare and enthusiasm associated with a boom in popularity, brewers are seen as demigods and certain beers are heralded as miracles presented to this earth by Saints Vinnie, Tomme, and Sam. All the hype can divert attention from what Beer Week is supposed to be about: enjoying beer.
But I'll tell you this: there are upsides to the hype. While beer weeks shouldn't be about standing in lines, the fact is that big lines make it into the newspaper (and whatever else people read these days.) Big lines get people interested. In an industry where the holdouts are those drinkers who aren't sure why they should care (or fork over hard-earned dollars for fancier suds), these demonstrations of devotion draw attention.
Yes, this kind of attention will cause the lines to grow ever longer at banner events, but that in turn encourages a much-needed decentralization of events. Hopefully, the growth of beer weeks will translate into more locations hosting more events—meaning crowds are dispersed and event experiences are more pleasant and meaningful.
In my mind, the reason for having a beer week at all is, beyond just having fun, to increase awareness of craft beer; to pique the interest of a non-craft drinker as well as celebrate what we have going on. Widespread excitement is infectious. Is a 500+-event beer week too big? More events means a greater chance of available barstools. More events means new ideas: butchery events with beer and food pairings, fine dining beer dinners at restaurants that had never previously considered hosting such an event, and advanced sensory analysis workshops.
While some see the growth-and-growth-and-growth of Beer Week as proverbial shark jumping, I see it as a gradual drift towards a beery ideal. What do you think?
About the author: Mike Reis is a Certified Cicerone and Co-Director of Beer at the Monk's Kettle and Abbot's Cellar restaurants in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @beerspeaks or find him behind a pint near you.
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