With over 4,500 breweries in America—and new ones opening at a rate of about two per day—it can be hard to differentiate yourself among the glut. In the 1990s, simply making beer that wasn’t "lite" was cause enough for celebration. By the 2000s, we had the ABV and IBU space races, with breweries battling to make the booziest and/or hoppiest beer on planet earth. Those days have thankfully passed, but visit any beer store or taproom of late and you'll see that breweries are still utilizing questionable gimmicks to drive the hype of their product.
We should be clear: not all the attention-grabbing, industry-wide trends in 2016 are gimmicks. I think we’re all thankful that always-fresh IPAs and accessible sour beers and barrel-aging offerings have become virtually ubiquitous. Then again, some of today's other fads are clear examples of craft beer blatantly jumping the shark—not altogether surprising in an industry so devoted to getting a rise out of their consumer base.
Don’t get me wrong, shark-jumping doesn’t mean craft beer is dead, or even dying. Hell, Happy Days—where we of course take the expression from—continued on for another seven seasons after Fonzie’s shark jump. (And hell, 30 million folks tuned in for that infamous episode.)
Still, instead of grabbing that rope and having the speedboat point your water skis toward shark-infested waters, many breweries both young and old should remember:
- There’s nothing wrong with simply making great beer—in taking quality malts, great hops, and adventurous yeasts and putting them together in stylistically interesting ways.
- Great beer without dumb gimmicks can still get you attention, as places like Hill Farmstead, Russian River, Firestone Walker. Breweries like these (and many others) have long shown that you need not betray your artisan ethos just to get people to care about you. Simply making a world-class saison or stout will usually do the trick.
Below are some of the most egregious "look at me!" trends that are bringing craft beer down a notch.