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Craft Controversy: Rotating Drafts Spark Concern Among Brewers

December 4, 2012

There’s no question that the surge in popularity of craft beer has resulted in the widest variety of brews and beer styles ever available. But some craft brewers are beginning to show concern that the very diversity that they have long promoted—particularly at beer bars with constantly rotating draft options—may actually be damaging to their companies and the craft beer category.

Bars that refuse to dedicate draft handles to particular brews, but rather regularly rotate beers in and out are “becoming more prevalent,” remarks Bob Sullivan, vice president of sales and marketing at Boulevard Brewing in Kansas City, Missouri, the tenth-largest craft brewer. The tactic—while often a successful strategy for on-premise operators—is damaging to all craft brewers, new and established, Sullivan says, as it doesn’t give brewers a chance to build their brands. “The on-premise is a critical place to engage our consumers and build brands,” he adds, and the “in and out” or “one and done” approach to draft brews by an increasing number of bars has begun to “dramatically impact our share.” Sullivan adds that other craft brewers report similar concern.

Other beer marketers agree that the rotating draft approach—while great for consumers and beneficial to many bars—is a challenge for marketers and distributors. “Retailers who are focused on rotating draft handles aren’t focused on building brands,” says Jim Gray, national draft director at Crown Imports. “They want the shiny new toy that is offered to them each month. The investment per account to support a draft brand comes at a price. We prefer a long-term commitment from a retailer so we can build our draft brands in an establishment.”

Sullivan agrees, revealing that when craft brewers move into new markets, rather than seeking out the trendy beer bars that refuse to devote draft real estate to particular brands or breweries, they target accounts where they’re likely to receive permanent handles. Sullivan cautions that while many bars like to feature the newest brewery in town or the hottest brand fueled by social media by purchasing a single keg, “it’s actually a disservice for new craft beer startups as they’re getting even less of a chance to build their brands.”

Sullivan concedes that the growing concern is one that brewers themselves have had a hand in stoking. “We, in part, created this, due to seasonals,” he says, “and now some retailers have taken it to the extreme. Accounts that offer 20 or 30 different drafts that all rotate is not a healthy trend for craft beer and craft beer brands.”

 

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