I've heard that there is an inverted bell curve of attitude to creating something as elaborate as a craft brewing company. Initially, there is much excitement and optimism. "This is the best idea ever!" "I can't believe we are doing this but I'm glad we are!" These are the attitudes at the very beginning which quickly declines into "This is harder than I thought." And "This sucks I have no idea what I'm doing." These attitudes eventually slide to a nadir in a dark swamp of despair. This is sort of where we are at the moment. It is fortunate that this is an identifiable and ultimately fleeting feeling, but it is going to get worse before it gets better. Right now, everything is conceptual; I can't even imagine how hard this is going to be when we get to a point of practical execution. Of walking into an empty space that will eventually be our brewery. Of placing stainless steel tanks. And plumbing. And coolers. And tables and chairs and bar stools. And various ornamentation. Actually I'm beginning to have a panic attack even thinking about all of that. I'm confident that we are more than capable of accomplishing all of this, but there are ominous factors in the industry that are causing doubt in the whole operation. Hence the deep pit of despair.
In the first (and only as of yet) Head Retention post, I stated that I thought the possibility of an industry shakeout was unlikely, or perhaps even impossible. I think I'm starting to change my mind about that. We are in it, it's happening. But it might not be revealed until it is long over. Without going in to a lot of detail, some breweries back home in Illinois had to close recently for one reason or another. I am not informed enough about the reasons why with any level of authority, so I will not, but when I heard about them closing, I remember thinking "It's actually happening. The shakeout is here." And then I started to slide into the deep pit of despair. There are over 5,000 breweries in operation in this country now with more opening every day. Do we need another? Can the market accept another? Should we proceed?
The answers. Yes. Yes. And Yes.
The shakeout may or may not be happening, but it implies a shift-- not an end. Sierra Nevada could have never started the way it did in this current market. Nor Sam Adams, New Belgium or Lagunitas. The days of widespread distribution are seemingly coming to a close. There just aren't enough draft faucets or shelf space. Would we love for Blue Tape to be a household name? Hell yes. But it's not going to happen beyond our immediate market. We are ambitious, but realistic.
There need to be more breweries to drive quality in a hyper-local setting. Not just quality of beer, but quality of the overall experience. Ramshackle taprooms with drinkable beer will pass. The market will accept innovation in beer hospitality and enlightened business owners. Perhaps by saying this I am trying to describe some prophecy that I hope we fit into, but at the same time I think it is absolutely necessary for the continued success of this industry. So we are at the bottom of this success curve, staying optimistic, beginning to climb out. In a way, we took a huge risk coming to South Carolina. It's an unfamiliar environment. It's a largely conservative state when it comes to alcohol, and the Charleston area is flooded with local craft businesses. But proceed we must. This is important for the entire industry.
So what the hell does any of this have to do with Arts and Crafts? I've been painting cardboard letters for the past two days. The color is "Honorable Blue" from Sherwin Williams and the letters are "lebuewrbgnipeta", which is the current order they are in on the drying rack, but that will eventually spell "Blue Tape Brewing." They will adorn a decent sized wooden backboard, which will someday be displayed in our brewery. Regardless of the occasional despair, we are still moving forward. Even if it just involves arts and crafts.