The Great Beer Exodus Continues: Avery Withdraws From 15 Markets…

As we’ve been discussing here for the last few weeks, the Great Beer Exodus of brewers leaving far-flung markets continues to ratchet up new entrants every week. The Avery Brewing Company of Boulder, Colorado, is the latest to announce the results of its overwhelming growth.

As I write in this month’s BeerAdvocate Magazine, craft beer lovers in many markets around the country are going to have to get used to traveling to enjoy dozens of their favorite brands. Now begins the age of local dominance. But with the increase of small and local driven nanos (500, 600, 700 at last count in planning?), things could get ugly on your package store’s shelves.

Here is the latest announcement from Avery.

Avery Brewing Co. Announces Plans To Exit 8 States and 7 Partial State Markets

Boulder, CO – Avery Brewing Company plans to withdraw from eight states and seven other partial-state markets beginning in April. Faced with skyrocketing demand–first quarter 2011 production growth for their home state of Colorado is 81% and overall production growth is 75%–the brewery has been forced to make the tough decision or lose the ability to support all markets with a steady supply of fresh beer.

Beginning in April 2011 beer shipments will be ceased to Arizona, Connecticut, Indiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Tennessee. Avery Brewing Company hopes to re-enter these eight states at some point in the future once production capacity can catch up with demand. The brewery is also leaving several partial state markets, including: Northern California (Bay Area and Sacramento), Eastern Arkansas, Upstate New York (outside of New York City), Central Florida (Orlando area) and Wisconsin.

Avery Brewing Company would like to extend a sincere and heartfelt thank you to those who have supported us–and our beers–in these markets over the past years. To our distributors and their hard working sales staff, to our retailers in on-premise and off-premise channels who have promoted our products with zeal and passion, and to our loyal customers and fans who have challenged their palates and enjoyed our beers over the years: thank you, thank you, thank you!! Our apologies for any frustrations this change brings your way. According to Avery Brewing President/Founder Adam Avery, “We all feel terrible about having to pull out of these markets. No matter how you cut it, it is disappointing that we’ll no longer be able to serve our loyal fans in these areas. ” Ted Whitney, National Sales Director at Avery Brewing Company, added “This is certainly unfortunate, but it was done with the best intentions. It’s about getting fresher beer and better experiences for our customers.”

Avery Brewing Company is one of several craft breweries to announce such cuts in 2011, but these disappointing changes are actually the sign of a very positive trend in the industry. Exponential sales growth for craft brewers can only mean one thing: the craft beer movement is on fire, attracting more followers and gaining mindshare with people of all demographics across the country. More fans means more market potential for all of the craft industry, and that’s a very good thing that will bring more great beer into the lives of Americans everywhere. Here’s to American craft beer in 2011 and beyond!!

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A Brew Masters Clarification and the Crazy Beer Week That Was…

With many brewers, bar owners, and writers just settling in from a long week at the annual Craft Brewers Conference in San Francisco, the week was supposed to be relatively quiet. We of course now know that this past week was destined to be one of the craziest that craft beer has experienced in a long time. It started with the news that Anheuser-Busch InBev planned to fully purchase the Goose Island Beer Company. The consumer and industry hand-wringing that followed closely thereafter was as visceral as it was split.

The increasingly hostile debate was, however, abruptly cut short by a rumor from food writer and television show host Anthony Bourdain, who tweeted that the Discovery Channel program Brew Masters, which follows Sam Calagione and the staff at Dogfish Head Craft Ales, was facing internal pressures by a big brewery advertiser.

Immediately, craft beer enthusiasts lit up Twitter and the beer website forums with angry rants against big brewers, mainly Anheuser-Busch InBev, for their perceived interference with their favorite beer show. A few hours after Bourdain’s tweet was noted, I reported via Twitter while in attendance at the annual NERAX fest that the Discovery Channel had canceled Brew Masters.

I’ll be the first to admit that breaking such news via the 140 character limited forum of Twitter, and in the environs of a crowded beer festival, was less than ideal. So after a busy week and weekend, I now have the opportunity to correct some of my language. I initially had tweeted that Discovery had ‘canceled’ Brew Masters. I then followed it up with the text of an email I received from a Discovery Channel media source which stated that the show was not renewed. In a Delaware business journal, Dogfish Head’s Calagione told a reporter:

“It wasn’t canceled,” he said Friday as he returned from celebrations for Wilmington’s new Queen Theatre. He signed up for six episodes, and six episodes will run into the summer, Discovery Channel confirmed to him Friday. “What happens after that has not been determined,” he said.

As I have now learned from talking with people more familiar with the parlance of the television trade, Brew Masters was not ‘canceled’ but was instead not renewed. This ostensibly means that the final sixth episode of the program will foreseeably be aired at some point in the future. I expect that any confusion, to the extent there was any, was clarified by my posting the text of the email I received from the Discovery Channel on the show’s non-renewal.

Now, with this said, the future of Brew Masters appears to be in dispute depending upon whom you speak with. Calagione and Dogfish believe it may come back in some form. The executives at Discovery Channel, however, were clear. Laurie Goldberg, the Executive Vice President for Public Relations for TLC and Discovery Networks told me in an email on Wednesday:

BrewMasters was launched with a lot of marketing support and garnered widespread media coverage, but unfortunately the series did not find a large enough audience so it was not renewed.

In the Delaware business journal article, Calagione acknowledges that the network was “underwhelmed as far as the numbers,” but noted that the program did as well as many other regular Discovery offerings.

Whether the show was canceled due to less than favorable ratings as Discovery suggests, but Calagione disputes in the Delaware journal article, or due to concern or interference (depending upon your point of view) from an advertiser remains to be flushed out. Despite the near complete absence of facts regarding the decision not to renew the program, loyal craft beer enthusiasts, perhaps still infuriated by the Goose Island news, have been exceedingly quick to lay the blame for the demise of Brew Masters squarely on the doorstep on Anheuser-Busch InBev. I haven’t been able to find anyone who has been able to recall whether Anheuser-Busch InBev even advertisers on the network, let alone on the program. But the script already seems to be written for ABI despite any supporting evidence.

What we do know, beyond not much at all, is that MillersCoors advertised its popular Blue Moon product line on the program. So if MillerCoors was the corporate voice behind the hazy Bourdain-veiled threats to Discovery, this begets the question of why the company chose to advertise on the program in the first place, if such programming was otherwise objectionable. And why would it decide to pull its ads after the near-full run of the program?

Whatever the final reasons, which by contractual obligation we’ll likely never know, it seems a bit of a jump for consumers to conclude that Bourdain’s minimal, 140 character Molotov cocktail should be believed, let alone being able to assign blame to a particular brewery. The whole affair has simply provided those so inclined with the opportunity to slag the larger breweries and to revel in the safe insularity of their respective passions. It has also been a loss to level-headed craft beer fans, consumers who have never seen how a craft brewery operates, and for craft brewers and Dogfish Head in particular.

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