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February 19, 2024 Opinion

From the Editor: The next evolution of craft beer

Not that long ago, I was a craft beer fanatic. My favorite beer was the one I’d hadn’t tried yet. As little as 10 years ago, the craft beer industry still felt new and exciting, with all sorts of startups and homegrown players brewing new twists on long-time favorites and introducing different concepts to a market once dominated by the Budweisers and Miller High Lifes of the world.

WBJ editor Brad Kane at his desk
WBJ Editor Brad Kane

Those days feel like they were ages ago. Now, I rarely drink beer at all, as marijuana is my preferred way to relax. When I do purchase a craft beer, it is almost always something I’ve had previously, even if it is a local craft brew from the likes of Wormtown Brewery, Redemption Rock Brewing, or Lost Shoe Brewing and Roasting in Marlborough. The idea of trying new beers just lost its luster for me.

Every company’s origin story is different, but the sudden growth of the craft beer industry over the last two decades was quite charming. Usually, a couple of friends or family members would start brewing beer on their own. Eventually, they would open their own taproom, and maybe even begin canning or bottling their brews to sell in grocery stores and restaurants. Suddenly, a startup run by a handful of friends was a full-fledged business with dozens of employees. The industry definitely encountered growing pains, as these owners had to learn how to be professional leaders, with their own policies and human resources departments, where bad behavior was no longer tolerated.

Now that the Central Massachusetts craft beer industry has grown up, it has entered the next phase of its evolution: corporatization. In January, the oldest Central Massachusetts craft brewery was purchased by the parent company of two other breweries, including Smuttynose in Brewing in New Hampshire. Nationally, even long-time beer giant Anheuser-Busch InBev purchased a conglomerate of small craft breweries in Oregon. The local ownership and flavor that defined the craft beer industry for much of its existence is now giving way to a different kind of operation.

WBJ Staff Writer Eric Casey explores these issues and more in his cover story “Crafting a future” for the Feb. 19 edition. Not every craft brewery is going to be scooped up by some corporate parent, but this is the new world these small companies are operating in. Now, they have to adjust, while still holding onto the charm that made the industry so intriguing. I don’t think I’ll ever go back to my try-one-of-everything craft beer days, but for all the players still trying to make the industry special, I’ll raise a glass.

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