Could some of our young, well-loved British craft breweries be on the verge of joining the Brewers Association of North America? Perhaps more importantly, should they?
Sat in the newly renovated and refreshed Horseshoe in Hampstead, North London, I was captivated by Chris Lennert of Colorado's iconic Left Hand Brewing as he spoke to the room with confidence and experience. Before him, we had listened to the evening's co-hosts, Logan Plant of Beavertown and Jasper Cuppaidge of Camden Town Brewery, tell us a little of their brewing history and about their beers. However, these two tall poppies are barely five years old, despite their successes they are infants in terms of the wider industry. Although they've seen rapid growth they both still have long journeys ahead of them if they are to achieve something remotely similar to Left Hand.
Left Hand Brewing have always gone against the grain. Back in the 90's, when all and sundry around them were brewing increasingly more potent India Pale Ale, they built their brand on the back of a stout. A brew that's now pretty iconic as far as beers of the craft revolution go. Lennert tells the gathered crowd of the Longmont brewery's twenty-two year history, of gruelling legal battles and trademark disputes, of hard graft and obstacles overcome. Left Hand's success wasn't just handed to them on a plate, they made it happen themselves.
When the topic of Lennert's address changes to that of the Brewers Association of North America I detect a change in his tone. It's an increased note of seriousness mixed with real sincerity, as he talks about an organisation for which his passion is obvious. The Brewers Association is an industry run trade body that has more than 44000 members from over 2500 of North America's 3000 plus breweries, as well as incorporating the American Homebrewers Association. Its purpose is simply to protect and promote American craft brewers with the biggest beneficiary being the people that choose to drink its members beers. They run, amongst other things, the Great American Beer Festival, the Craft Brewers Conference and the bi-annual World Beer Cup. They provide education both technical and financial, tools that help both young and established businesses, including legal advice, as well as significantly increasing both the awareness and knowledge of craft beer on a consumer level. Put simply, there's no other trade body in the industry quite like it.
After his speech, Lennert makes sure to sit at every table and introduce himself to every guest dining at The Horseshoe this evening. When he finally reaches my table he continues to speak with passion about the work the Brewers Association does and shoves some literature into my hand, as he does with everyone else before the conversation is over. I'm puzzled as to why a trade body based in the United States is so eager to push its message onto drinkers from the United Kingdom but after a little observation and some careful thought it begins to come clear.
I watch Lennert speak to Plant and Cuppaidge as the guests begin to depart and the night draws to its close. He continues with the same sense of seriousness, bordering on urgency, whilst the two owners of successful yet fledgling British breweries look on with apparent reverence. Could these two breweries, who arguably exist in part because of the work the Brewers Association has done, be on the verge of becoming some of their newest members? What benefit could joining a trade body operating in another country possibly bring to their businesses?
Both Camden and Beavertown have export operations that have been key to their growth. Countries such as Sweden, Australia and for Beavertown, even the US, have provided key export markets. The Great American Beer Festival, unlike its British counterpart only serves American beer, it is the Great American Beer Festival after all. It's also a festival that sees 49000 attendees and last year sold out its ticket allocation in just 32 minutes. If there's one festival that any brewery looking to crack the North American market, the largest in craft beer, wants to be seen at then surely it's this one. It's just one of a myriad of reasons why joining would make sense, that plus a deep well of experience and support that no other trade body is able to provide. Quite simply, the existence of the Brewers Association has been and will continue to be one of the reasons beer has become as widely successful as it has.
One of their actions though, stands out for me from all others. In a sea of fierce debate and indecision, in order to protect its members and help them grow, the Brewers Association defined craft beer. It's not perfect and you may not agree with it but it exists and not one other trade body has had the stones to do the same. If Britain's various trade bodies can't work together to make this decision, then I would say the Brewers Association is the organisation that the industry really needs. With their combined ability to help businesses new and existing grow and to both educate and excite consumers, I also think it's the organisation we all want.