Can you really have too much of a good thing? I’m not talking about moderation to stave off a hangover, but a question of brewery saturation. The “Craft Beer Bubble” has been a topic of business and investment magazines for the last few years. But these articles are written from a decidedly “outsider” perspective, going out of their way to poke fun at all those kooky names and styles--Chocolate coffee Porter? In a beer!--throwing around numbers to prove that “Big Beer” is still reigning in the bucks. I’m not sure I agree that we’re about to see a burst, because I feel like a burst accompanies the death of a trend--and craft beer is not a trend in the way that cake pops and cupcakes were.
The Brewer’s Association has done a really great two part article on the topic here and here. The conclusion is that we’re not anywhere near a saturation point overall, mainly because of the nature of craft beer. Craft breweries are local-minded, as we’ve long held to be true here at Beers. There are still plenty of local craft beer lovers who are filled with glee over the announcement of a new brewery to go around.
In my hometown of Kirkland, where my parents still live, there are two(!!) craft breweries--which to me feels severely lacking. One, the recently opened Chainline, is situated right along the newly opened Cross Kirkland Corridor trail. With patio seating, inviting interior, and plenty of bike parking, the place was hopping when I visited just a few days after its opening. Kirkland is far from saturation--I think they’re still pretty damn thirsty down there.
Then we have Bellingham. Our most loved birthplace of Beers at the Bottom, Bellingham’s beer scene is thriving, and exploding with a new brewery announced every month it seems (well, the last two at least). With five open and operating breweries currently, Bellingham will be welcoming two more breweries by year’s end, with another two breweries in the planning stages announced recently. Aubrey Laurence wrote a great piece on the “Bellingham Brewery Boom” in January 2015, asserting: yes, Bellingham’s brewery scene has room to grow. “Bellingham is the next Bend!” And that is exciting.
But I am a little, well,worried is the wrong word. Trepidatious? I agree that Bellingham can handle more breweries, but I also know that competition is stiff. Boundary Bay and Kulshan have both recently expanded, and newest brews Aslan and Wander have been enthusiastically received. Stone’s Throw will benefit from its unique Fairhaven market, and there has been plenty of buzz about Gruff. Each seems to be serving quality and diverse offerings to craft beer drinkers. But what happens when the next brewery just doesn’t meet the hype?
In the time I lived in Bellingham, I went to more grand openings for bars than I can remember. Sometimes these establishments left so little impression on me that instead of learning their new name, they were simply, “that place, you know! In the old (blank).” I just wonder if one of these days a brewery is going to open which leaves that little of an impression on me and other patrons. I think, outside of brewing really great beer, breweries eyeing Bellingham shouldn’t just consider the craft beer scene, but go in with an understanding of the community. It won’t just be an innovation in brewing that will guarantee success, but innovation of community space--whether that be through events, atmosphere and theme, or utilization of space. If nothing else, here’s to a new crop of fresh pints!