By James Atkinson

Australian craft brewers must learn the lessons of their North American counterparts about the damage substandard beer can do to the entire category, warns Eric Ottaway, general manager of New York-based Brooklyn Brewery (pictured).

In Australia for last week's inaugural Craft Beer Industry Association (CBIA) conference, Ottaway told TheShout that the U.S. craft beer sector took several years to recover when some consumers deserted it because of widespread quality issues in the late 1990s.

"There was a late 90s explosion of interest in craft brewing, which on the one hand is certainly positive, but what it led to was there were far too many people jumping in the industry on a whim," he said.

"They either didn't understand the business side of it or didn't understand the brewing side of it, or unfortunately, in a lot of cases, didn't understand either side of it."

"What you ended up with is a bunch of consumers out there who normally would be into craft beer trying a bunch of pretty bad beers, with quality defects, and getting completely turned off from craft beers," Ottaway said.

He said the category had been growing at 40 to 50 per cent a year but the quality issues meant it flattened out and went through a period of much slower growth of four to five per cent.

"It took three to four years for the craft beer sector to really get its sea legs back," he said.

"In the meantime, consumers didn't stop drinking better beer. What they did is they migrated back to their trusted and true favourites on the import side." 

"During that time a lot of those newcomers who didn't know what they were doing fell by the wayside and others learned to bring up their quality level a little further."

Having attended last week's Good Beer Week festivities and the Great Australian Beer Spectapular, Ottaway said Australia's craft beers have improved considerably since he last visited in 2012.

"Compared to last year I think the average is rising and rising really rapidly," he said.

"Last year I had several beers that – I'm being brutally honest – were either total diacetyl bombs or were infected. I haven't run into a single one this year and that impresses me already," said Ottaway. 

"It shows me that the base level of quality is rising."

The Shout Team

The leading online news service for Australia's beer, wine, spirits and hospitality industries.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *