Last night I got into a bit of a clumsy discussion on Twitter that ended very unsatisfactorily for me. Frankly it was my own fault, and I wanted to clear up my thoughts a little.
I’m rather proud of that tweet since I think it sums up a significant sector, and a very large part of the mentality that holds back the American beer scene. I stand by it and I think that it is actually a pretty accurate assessment of where things stand in US beer ‘culture’. My mistake however was to not make it clear that my criticisms were not necessarily directed at any specific brewery, and not necessarily at Hill Farmstead. I say ‘not necessarily’ since it could be that my criticisms do fit them, but at the same time I do accept the fact that I don’t know them well enough to be able to make that assertion with any certainty.
Having said all of that what I feel is undeniable is this; many breweries, of all sizes, are secretly rubbing their hands with glee at the non-discriminatory habits of the ignorant, craft beer buying public in the US. There is a huge immaturity that grips, and in many ways drives, the market here in America. Punters are continually happy to buy rare (small distribution) beer, regardless of the quality of the product, and are content to pay premium prices for the privilege. As a result, many breweries deliberately influence supply by simply making things ‘one-offs’ and ‘limited’. It’s difficult (probably impossible) to tell where any brewery truthfully stands on this, and of course they would never let on, but my bet is that they all love it, since it drives up demand and hype, and can make the success of their product largely independent of quality – in short, it’s a very convenient truth for them!
All of this applies equally to breweries that are producing great beer and crappy beer – they ALL benefit. Hill Farmstead (and many others like them) is definitely benefiting from this pervading ‘culture’ regardless of the quality of their product. I’m not saying that Hill Farmstead’s beer is not good, I’m saying that to a large degree, that by limiting supply that it actually doesn’t matter! That’s my point, and at its heart it’s a criticism of consumers and not brewers.
Of course, the ones that stand to gain the most in the short to mid term are the players that are producing mediocre beer, since in such an environment they can continue to sell it regardless of whether it is good or not. One would think that the market will eventually correct itself, but for now, the ignorance that infects such a large part of the American craft beer buying public shows no sign of letting up, and even weak brands can continue to do OK, and in some cases, actually thrive.
I have absolutely no reason to doubt the sincerity of Shaun Hill as a brewer, or the sincerity of his motivation, but capping at 150,000 gallons per year forever, is a very convenient marketing tool in the current atmosphere that pervades the American brewing scene. At best, it’s a happy coincidence.