WHAT IS there to say about 2016 other than it was a wild ride, in general and in the craft beer world? A lot has happened over the past twelve months, so let’s look back.
Nationally there were two big stories in the beer world. The first was the merger between two of the macro-breweries when on July 20 the Justice Department approved the $108 billion merger of Belgium based Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) and SABMiller.
This merger of the two largest breweries created an umbrella company that controls over 350 beer brands including Bud, Bud Light, Miller, Corona, Beck’s, Stella, and Pilsner Urquell among others — around 75 percent of all beer sold in the U.S.
The interesting result of these mergers and the general trend of craft breweries being purchased by macro breweries was the creation of True Craft, a craft beer investment fund founded by Stone Brewing owner Greg Koch. True Craft’s goal is to take minority stakes in small breweries so they can grow but there isn’t the incentive to take money from the big guys.
Statewide craft brewing news was mixed.
The same day the AB InBev and SABMiller merger was announced it was also announced that Athens based brewery Terrapin Brewing was purchased by MillerCoors. This takeover wasn’t wholly a surprise as MillerCoors has held a large stake in the company since 2012. The outright purchase of craft breweries by larger breweries and investment funds was a recurring theme in 2016.
On January 24 news broke that a compromise on Senate Bill 63 (SB63) also known as the Beer Jobs Bill had been reached. This was after the entire bill had essentially ben scrapped in 2015. The Georgia Beer Wholesalers Association, Georgia Craft Brewers Guild and Department of Revenue issued a statement that new regulations would be released that would:
• Allow brewers again to sell brewery tours at variable prices based on the kind of beer offered.
• Allow special events at breweries and distilleries.
• Let brewers, distilleries and wholesalers use social media to alert the public about where to buy their products or advertise special events.
•Allow third parties to sell tour tickets.
•Let breweries and distilleries sell food onsite.
This was seen by many as a lousy compromise to what was already a compromise to what would be the best way for breweries to work in Georgia. Georgia is far behind our neighboring states particularly when it comes to brewery direct sales.
Locally the breweries around town had a lot going on:
Coastal Empire added a new can labeling system to their canning line. The new system allows them flexibility in what they can brew and release. A label system means they can keep blank cans in stock and only have to order labels that are far less expensive then preprinted cans.
Southbound Brewing released their third core beer, Shakedown Street a dry-hopped tart saison. At the end of 2015 they doubled their capacity allowing them to brew several new seasonals beyond Moonlight Drive. The first of these new summer seasonal, Transilience, is an imperial berliner weisse with mango and pomegranate.
Service Brewing has started construction on a new barrel room. It’s a huge and beautiful new space that will allow them to create a whole new range of beer.
With new restaurants opening all the time we’re seeing growth in the interest in craft beer all over Savannah. It’s far easier to find a craft brew when dinning out than it was even a year ago.
There was one sad and unexpected loss to Savannah’s scene. Hops and Barley closed its doors in late November.
The flipside of the loss of Hops and Barley was that Jason and Jocelyn Piccolo opened White Whale Craft Ales on Bull Street a block South of Forsyth. The new store sells bottles and cans of course but also twelve taps for growler fills.
It was an eventful year in craft brewing, and as the industry continues to grow we can expect more exciting news in 2017.