This happens. With the number of craft breweries in the U.S. rising to more than 2,500 and craft beer sales still growing 15% by volume in 2012 compared to 1% for the entire beer industry, craft brewers are starting to sound like Morgan Freeman's Red from The Shawshank Redemption: You either get busy living or get busy dying.
Chico, Calif.-based Sierra Nevada was founded by Ken Grossman in the late 1970s. In recent years, Grossman has begun tweaking his lineup to include more seasonal offerings and limited-edition beers, shifted his Torpedo IPA toward the flagship position once occupied by his Pale Ale, expanded to a second brewery near Asheville, N.C., and began grooming his son and daughter to take over the business. Kim Jordan founded New Belgium brewing company in Fort Collins, Colo., with her ex-husband in 1991, but recently began updating the company's labels, canning some of its beers, increasing its one-off batches, selling shares to New Belgium employees, expanding New Belgium's distribution radius to more states and, yes, building a new facility near Asheville, N.C.
We could go on like this all day. Jim Koch brewed his first batch of Samuel Adams 30 years ago, but has recently turned Boston Brewing Company into a nearly 3 million-barrel operation that also cranks out cider, releases malt beverages, develops shandies and buys up breweries including Los Angeles-based Angel City and New York's Coney Island Craft Lagers.Tony McGee started Petaluma, Calif.-based Lagunitas Brewing Company in 1993 and nearly quintupled its output since 2009 while expanding to a facility in Chicago.
That's what it takes to preserve a brewery. There are some folks, however, who understandably don't want to go that route. We wrote about Kansas City, Mo.-based Boulevard Brewing Company in October, when it was purchased by Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat for between $100 million and $120 million. John McDonald, who founded Boulevard in 1989, explained the sale in an open letter that should have resonated with every craft brewer in their second or third decade of running a business:
I'm not getting any younger, and the long-term future of the brewery has weighed on my mind for the past several years. After long discussions with my family, we determined that we wanted to find a way to take Boulevard to the next level while retaining its essence, its people, its personality -- all the characteristics that make our beer and our brewery so important to Kansas City and the Midwest.
And those are the words of a man whose brewery output has grown by nearly 40,000 barrels since 2009 and whose brand just became the first craft beer to serve as a Major League Baseball team's official beer sponsor thanks to the Kansas City Royals. Imagine if his brewery was spinning its wheels and creating beers that fell somewhat behind the curve.